TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Forces aligned with Libya’s Tripoli-based government said on Tuesday they had shot down a drone operated by their rivals, suggesting a strengthening of air defenses as they receive accelerated military support from Turkey.
The drone was shot down just east of Misrata, a key source of military power for forces aligned with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), those forces said on their social media pages.
They posted pictures of the charred wreckage of an aircraft and a largely intact wing being carried away on a pick-up truck, identifying it as a drone supplied by the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE has been supporting east Libya-based forces led by Khalifa Haftar, supplying them with Chinese-made Wing Loong drones that long gave them an aerial advantage over less powerful Turkish drones used by their rivals, according to U.N. experts, diplomats and analysts.
Many more of the Turkish drones have been destroyed or shot down than the Chinese drones.
However, Turkey has recently been sending reinforcements to the GNA, which include air defense systems as well as military advisors, analysts say.
Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has been waging a offensive to take control of Tripoli since April, the latest escalation of a conflict between rival camps based in Tripoli and east Libya since 2014.
The LNA said the downed drone was Turkish, but a weapons specialist with wide experience in the region confirmed the drone was a Wing Loong. UAE authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The U.N. mission to Libya said on Saturday that weapons had been pouring into Libya despite a pledge by international powers to respect an arms embargo that has been routinely breached.
In the eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday, several hundred people attended a rally to celebrate the capture of what the LNA said was a Turkish armored vehicle seized from their rivals.
In Tripoli, three children were killed and one was seriously wounded after a shell fell on a residential area in the Hadba al-Badri district, a spokesman for the Red Crescent said.
U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said this month that the war in Tripoli had shut more than 200 schools, depriving more than 115,000 children of schooling.
The fighting has forced more than 150,000 people, 90,000 of whom are children, to flee their homes, according to U.N. estimates.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli; Additional reporting and writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Giles Elgood)