How U.S., Turkey shared Russian missile system seized in Libya - report

The seizure of a Russian-made missile defence system in Libya triggered a competition for custody between Turkey and the United States, the Africa Report said on Thursday.

Forces loyal to Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) captured the Russian Pantsir missiles in May following a counteroffensive against the rival Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar.

The missile system was subsequently transported to Turkey in a U.S. military cargo plane, the result of a hotly contested compromise between NATO allies the United States and Turkey, the Africa Report said.    

Turkey is a key international backer of the GNA, providing the Tripoli-based administration with weaponry crucial to reversing the LNA’s campaign to secure undisputed control of Libyan territory.

This includes the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone, which has proved particularly effective against the Pantsir system, destroying several batteries of the missiles given to the LNA by the United Arab Emirates, the Africa Report said.

However, the capture of intact Pantsir missiles by GNA forces in May saw both the United States and Turkey vie for access to the Russian-made technology, leaving the GNA caught “like children in a divorce”, the magazine cited a Libyan official as saying.

Ankara and Washington also remain at odds over Ankara’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile system. The United States says any Turkish deployment of the missiles would undermine NATO’s operational security, and recently imposed sanctions on the Turkish defence industry.

But the compromise reached by the United States and Turkey over access to the Pantsir missiles showed there was still scope for close cooperation between the countries, the Africa Report said.

“I think the fact that the U.S. transferred the Pantsir system to Turkey post-receipt under an agreement speaks to a partnership that is more strategic than it is solely tactical when it comes to supporting Turkey in developing unmanned aerial vehicles able to counter Russian defence systems,” Emadeddin Badi, a senior analyst with the Global Initiative, told the magazine.

Studying the Pantsir missiles could give Turkey an edge in confrontations with Russia elsewhere, including Azerbaijan and Syria, the Africa Report said.