A secretive proxy drone war just exploded in Libya
Initially, Haftar had the upper hand. He got arms and some drones from the Gulf. These included Chinese Wing Loong 2 drones. Last year, he launched an offensive to take Tripoli. But Turkey upped its arming of the GNA and sent armored vehicles, mercenaries from Syria and drones. Turkey’s drones are credited with turning the tide of the war.
The blunting of the LNA and the taking of Watiya on May 18 represents a setback for Haftar and his allies. It is a major embarrassment for Moscow. Several Russian-made Pantsir air-defense systems have been destroyed by the GNA offensive. The Pantsir is a truck-based, air-defense system that has missiles and radar to deal with shorter-range targets.
Turkey’s intervention could be a decisive blow, observers note. This could be true, but it could also be part of Turkey’s well-oiled lobbying machine that seeks to portray Ankara as invincible and capable of projecting power via bombing and attacks into Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Middle East.
One report notes that in just two days the GNA destroyed several Russian Pantsir systems, a Wing Loong UAV and an electronic-warfare system. Meanwhile, the LNA has boasted over the last weeks to have downed numerous Turkish drones. Turkish social-media accounts say the Bayraktar TB2 drone hunted down the Russian air-defense systems.
Bayraktar is a drone company built by a young pioneering drone creator named Selcuk Bayraktar in Turkey. Bayraktar also married the Turkish president’s daughter Sumeyye Erdogan in 2016. There are also apparently Anka-S model drones active in Libya, supplied by Turkey. In just 10 years the Bayraktars have transformed Turkey. Erdogan’s family is married to the drones, and he gambled by deploying it to Libya. It has shown itself to be the new face of drone warfare in the Middle East, the way the Predator once was.
The question now is whether Russia, the UAE and others will increase their aid to the LNA. The LNA needs technical training to deal with the drones, and if it is facing off against Turkish experts flying the drones, it would need advisers as well. So far, it appears it got the weapons piecemeal, a process that may have led to failure at Watiya.