By H I Sutto
Turkish-backed Libyan government forces have scored a significant intelligence coup, capturing an advanced Pantsir-S1 air-defense system at al-Watiyah airbase. In a twist, the Russian-made system was not supplied by Russia, but is believed to have come from the United Arab Emirates.
The events leading up to the capture were dramatic. On Saturday, a drone targeted one of the missile vehicles shortly after it arrived at al-Watiyah. The system was shown being driven into a hardened aircraft shelter, which was then struck by a missile.
The airbase is controlled by the rival LNA, or Libyan National Army, commanded by Khalifa Haftar. The attack, believed to have been carried out by a Turkish-made TB2 drone, likely neutralized the system before it could be put into operation. It was damaged but not destroyed. It is likely that the missile strike hit a ‘technical’ armed jeep next to the Pantsir.
This, it turned out, was a blessing for the Government forces because just two days later on Monday they captured it. Based on numerous images on social media, it appears smoke-damaged but largely intact. It is clear that the vehicle’s missile tubes were loaded at the time of the air strike. It has since been paraded as a war trophy, and may be moved to a protected location to be analysed.
The Pantsir-S1, known to NATO as the SA-22 Greyhound, combines both guns and missiles. It is reputed to be able to intercept cruise missiles and has been extensively used by Assad’s forces in Syria. Despite its potency, or possibly because of it, it has been a target of choice for both Turkish and Israeli air strikes in Syria. What is less well known is that it has been present in the Libyan Civil War as well.
According to Oded Berkowitz, an intelligence analyst who closely monitors the situation, it appears that several Pantsir systems have arrived in Libya over the past two years. The first was seen in June 2018 and they have been visible in photos shared on LNA-associated social media accounts. Critically these are the model supplied to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is mounted on the German built Man-SX 45 eight-wheeled truck. This vehicle is unique to the UAE supplied systems. Not surprisingly a United Nations Security Council Council report assessed them to have been delivered by the UAE to the LNA. The UAE is widely seen as one of the LNA’s main backers.
The Pantsir almost certainly arrived in the country by air. Most, if not all, weapons shipments to the LNA appear to be via air at this point. And the systems first appeared at airbases.
The systems may have accounted for many of the Turkish-built TB2 drones which have been downed in the country.
The seizure of al-Watiyah also netted an array of former Libyan Air force aircraft. Derelict Mirage F-1 fighters and vintage Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters can be seen in images from the base.
Pantsir-S1 is still in the crosshairs in Libya. In another drone strike video which emerged today, Turkish-backed forces appear to hit another near the city of Sirte. This is around 300 miles from al-Watiyah airbase. It is seen being targeted as it is moved on lowboy trailer, when it appears at its most vulnerable.