A Russian-made Pantsir-S1 air-defense system captured in Libya was flown to a US air base in German in a covert mission, The Times reported on January 28.
The system in question was supplied by the UAE to the Libyan National Army (LNA). Forces loyal to the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) captured the system on May 18 of 2020 inside al-Watiya Air Base in western Libya.
According to the Times, the air-defense system ended up in the hands of Mohamad Bahrun, a pro-GNA warlord also known as “al-Far.” Bahrun’s close ties with arms smugglers and radicals raised concerns over the system’s fate.
Bahrun was reportedly pressured by the GNA’s interior minister Fathi Bashagha into handing over the Panstir-S1 system, which was taken to a base occupied by Turkish forces. From there, the system was taken to Zuwara Airport, west of Tripoli.
Last June, the US shipped the air-defense system from Zuwara Airport to Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany in a covert operation. The system was shipped on a C-17 Globalmaster military cargo plane.
“The operation was ordered amid concerns that the Pantsir S-1 missile battery, which can easily bring down civilian aircraft, could fall into the hands of militias or arms smugglers in the war-torn north African country,” The Times’ report reads.
According to the report, the US believes that a Panstir-S1 system operated by the LNA shot down one of its MQ-9 Reaper drones over Libya a while ago.
An anonymous ‘Russian official’ told the British newspaper that Moscow is aware that the system was taken by the US. The official said the operation has limited intelligence value as the US could have studied the same system when it was in the UAE, a close ally of Washington.
Panstri-S1s sold to the UAE were all a special export variant of the weapon system. This explains the lack of Russian concerns over the US covert operation in Libya.