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Turkey boosts drone sales to Africa in a move set to stoke tensions

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signs a drone at a military airbase in Batman, Turkey, on February 3, 2018. (Photo by AP)

Turkey has increased its export of combat drones to Morocco and Ethiopia in a move set to anger Egypt and Sudan, Egyptian security sources say. 

Egypt, which is at odds with Ethiopia over a hydropower dam, has already asked the United States and some European countries to help Cairo freeze any armed drone deal between Ankara and Addis Ababa, the sources told Reuters. 

The export to the African country risks creating friction in already strained relations between Ankara and Cairo.

A third unnamed Egyptian source said any agreement would have to be raised and clarified in negotiations between Cairo and Ankara as the two try to mend relations.

Although several sources gave details about the purported deals on armed drones, the three involved countries – Turkey, Ethiopia, and Morocco – have not yet formally announced any deals on combat drones.  

A Turkish official was quoted as saying that both Addis Ababa and Rabat had requested purchases of Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drones in deals that could also include spare-part guarantees and training.

One unnamed diplomat said Morocco had already received the first shipment of armed drones it ordered back in May, adding that Ethiopia also plans to receive the aircraft but the status of that order is less clear.

Poland, which is Turkey’s NATO partner, and Ukraine have already ordered Turkish combat drones, which according to military experts, are less expensive than market rivals manufactured in Israel, China, and the United States.

According to official figures, Turkey's defense and aviation exports have increased sharply to Morocco and Ethiopia during the past two months.  

In an attempt to ease its economic problems, Turkey needs to boost its sales of combat drones, whose growing importance in modern warfare is increasingly evident.

Last year, Ankara successfully used its armed drones in Libya to defend the Tripoli-based government against eastern forces, led by renegade general Khalifa Haftar, who was supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Turkish drones helped Ankara’s ally Azerbaijan defeat Armenia-backed forces.

According to the Turkish Exporters Assembly, defense and aviation exports to Ethiopia increased to $51 million in the first three months of this year, from $203,000 in the same period in 2020, with a jump in August and September.

The figures by the assembly also show that exports to Morocco were $78.6 million in the same period - with $62 million in September alone - compared to $402,000 last year.

It also shows that overall Turkish defense and aviation exports totaled $2.1 billion in the first three quarters of this year, up 39 percent from $1.5 billion last year.


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