US flies Russian-built Pantsir S-1 missile system out of Libya

Harry Lye 29 January 2021 (Last Updated January 29th, 2021 11:52)

The US Military reportedly smuggled a Russian Pantsir S-1 missile system out of Libya to a base in Germany, according to a report by The Times.

The US Military reportedly smuggled a Russian Pantsir S-1 missile system out of Libya to a base in Germany, according to a report by The Times.

The air defence system was acquired by the US and flown out of Libya after it was lost by forces loyal to Russian-backed Khalifa Haftar during an attack on an airbase.

The Times reported that the US undertook the operation over fears it could be captured by militia forces.

In a statement, Pentagon spokesperson Commander Jessica L. McNulty told Army Technology that the Department of Defense (DoD) was aware of The Times story.

The Pantsir S-1 system arrived in Libya for use by Haftar’s forces after being purchased from Russia by the United Arab Emirates which also backs Haftar.

McNulty said: “The United States opposes all foreign military intervention in Libya. We strongly support the October 23 Libyan ceasefire agreement, including the immediate withdrawal of foreign military forces and mercenaries. This includes the need for the departure of Russian proxy forces.

“To that end, the United States has been a leader on promoting adherence to the arms embargo.”

Libya is subject to an arms embargo intended to prevent the import and export of weapons systems into and out of the country.

McNulty added: “We remain fully committed to ensuring advanced weapons systems neither enter Libya nor are proliferated from Libya into the hands of dangerous actors and further stoking violent conflict in violation of the word and spirit of the arms embargo.

The United States prioritises finding an inclusive, negotiated, political solution to the Libyan conflict.”

Haftar’s forces – the Libyan National Army – is engaged in a civil war against the UN-backed Government of National Accord or GNA.

The GNA’s main backer is Turkey which has been notable for its mass use of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs). Haftar’s seat of power lies in the east of the country, with the GNA holding the west.

The Pantsir S-1 was flown out of Libya from Zuwara airport, west of the capital Tripoli, to Ramstein airbase in Germany using a C-17 Globemaster, according to The Times. In 2019, it was reported that a US military drone was shot down near Tripoli by Russian air defences.

The Times reported that the system was reportedly captured following an attack on Watiya airbase in May last year, the Pantsir was then moved to Zawiya before being seized by a militia commander called Mohamed Bahroun.

It was then acquired by government forces and transported to base housing Turkish personnel before being moved to the airport to be removed from the country by US personnel.