Someone Gave Iranian-Made Drones to Libya’s Tobruk Regime
Iran or Sudan?
On Oct. 5, 2017, Maghreb Confidentiel — a professional journal covering Africa’s intelligence services — revealed that the Libyan National Army has obtained Iranian-made Mohajer-2 drones.
War Is Boring’s own sources in Libya confirmed the claim. A photo provided by LNA militants shows one of the Iranian UAVs at an unspecified air base.
The Libyan engineer in the picture – his face obscured for security reasons – works with the LNA. But the provenance of the drone is unclear.
There are two sources plausible sources. Iran and Sudan.
The Mohajer-2 is powered by a 25-horsepower WAE-342 twin-cylinder piston engine. Generally unarmed, the Mohajer-2 is optimized for reconnaissance missions. It boasts a 50-kilometer range and a maximum speed of 200 kilometers per hour. Its ceiling around 3,350 meter. Its endurance — 90 minutes or so.
Iran, Sudan and Venezuela all use the Mohajer-2.
The first possibility is that Iran itself supplied the drones to the Tobruk-based Libyan regime, possibly via an intermediary such as Russia, which has also transferred MiG-23s and spare parts to the LNA.
The transfer could have occurred via the air cargo companies that regularly visit LNA bases, including Moldovan firms Sky Prim Air and Oscar Jet.
All that said, some of the LNA’s strongest backers are Sunnia-Arab countries — major opponents of Iran. In accepting drones from Tehran, even indirectly, Tobruk could risk alienating its most important backers.
That leaves Sudan. Khartoum has, in general, supported militants in Misrata and the Libyan Government of National Accord — a rival of the LNA. Sudan has provided ammunition, spare parts and technical maintenance and Sudanese crews for the pro-GNA Libya Dawn Air Force.
Photos via the author
But there are indications that Khartoum has occasionally aided the LNA.
The Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Movement are Sudanese Islamist opposition groups, most of whose members are Darfuris. They are part of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, an alliance of Sudanese factions opposed to the government of Pres. Omar Al Bashir.
Rebels from these two armed groups regularly enter Libyan territory, notably the Kufra region. In February 2016, JEM and SLM fighters attacked the city of Kufra, which was then under the control of the Tobruk-based House of Representative.
Since October 2015, the main armed group in the area has been the Subol Al Salam brigade – a Salafist militia – which is said to be operating in alliance with the LNA’s leader Khalifa Haftar.
In October 2016, this militia reportedly killed 13 JEM militants and destroyed two vehicles near the oasis town of Jaghboub. Despite this, Sudan regularly complains that Libya — that is to say, the Tobruk government — does nothing to prevent the various Darfuri rebel groups from crossing into Libya.
Lacking infrastructure in the south of Libya, the LNA can only use light armed-reconnaissance aircraft – SIAI Marchetti SF.260s – to monitor the Sudanese-Libyan border. One of these Italian-made small planes crashed south of Kufra in May 2017, killing the two crew members.
Khartoum has operated Iranian-made UAVs since 2008, as Africa Confidential reported. That year, the Sudan Liberation Movement-Unity Commanda shot down a Ghods Ababil-3 over Darfur. According to Africa Confidential editor Patrick Smith, the drone was probably controlled by Iranian technicians in Sudan.
The Sudanese air force has used many types of UAVs and lost at least six in combat – most of them shot down by rebels.
Despite past tensions between Tobruk and Khartoum due to Sudan’s support of the regime in Tripoli, an agreement between the Libyans and Sudanese may have facilitated Sudan’s supply of Mohajer-2s to Tobruk and the training of operators, all in order to monitor and prevent the crossing of the Libyan border by JEM and SLM militants.
Of course, it’s also possible that the LNA captured the drones from the GNA when the former seized Al Jufra air base in June 2017. The LNA could have grabbed Mohajer-2s along with the ex-Libya Dawn MiG-23UB fighter that LNA fighters found at the base.