Monday, 3 January 2022

UAE Implicated In Lethal Drone Strikes In Tigray

By Stijn Mitzer
Just a month after the deployment of six Emirati Wing Loong I unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) and their operators to Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates is already implicated in a series of airstrikes on civilian infrastructure in the town of Alamata in the Tigray Region. The strikes resulted in the deaths of 42 civilians and the wounding of at least 150 as munitions struck the town's hospital and market. [1] [2] The majority of deaths are believed to have resulted from unguided bombs dropped by the Ethiopian Air Force's (ETAF) Su-27 fighter aircraft, which Ethiopia has repurposed as makeshift bombers armed with dumb bombs and cluster munitions. [3]

Careful analysis of the stricken areas in Alamata however also reveals the remains of a Chinese-made Blue Arrow 7 air-to-ground missile (AGM), which is the standard type of armament equipping Emirati Wing Loong UCAVs. Although the Ethiopian Air Force similarly operates the Wing Loong I, these are only known to be armed with TL-2 AGMs, a first batch of which was acquired in early November 2021. [4] Ethiopia initially sought to operate its Wing Loong Is as reconnaissance UAVs to locate targets for Su-27 fighter aircraft equipped with unguided bombs, only later deploying them as actual strike platforms armed with up to four guided munitions. [5]

Although it's impossible to conclusively link the remains of the Blue Arrow 7 munition to civilian deaths (at least until more information becomes available), it is known that the UAE has frequently struck civilian infrastructure as part of its drone campaigns over Yemen and Libya. In 2020 Amnesty International urged the United States to stop drone sales to UAE over the use of armed drones by the UAE to ''target civilian homes and health facilities, including field hospitals and ambulances''. [6] [7] [8] Also in 2020, an Emirati Wing Loong II carried out a lethal drone strike that killed 26 unarmed cadets at a military academy in Tripoli, Libya. [9]

The motor tailpipe of the Blue Arrow 7 remains recovered in Alamata.

After the drone strike in Alamata, enough of the Blue Arrow 7 AGM (itself an export version of the AKD-10 AGM) survived the impact to compare its remains with other Blue Arrow 7 wreckages encountered in Libya, where the UAE waged a four-year long war against the internationally-recognised government of Libya. [10] This confirms a definite match. The most identifiable component is the motor tailpipe, which is located in the tail section of the Blue Arrow 7 and typically survives most impacts. This makes it an ideal component for comparison. Footage of the munition in Alamata can be viewed here. [11] Remnants of Blue Arrow 7 AGMs encountered in Libya and Morocco can be seen here, here and here. [12] [13] [14]

The motor tailpipe of a Blue Arrow 7 AGM found in Alamata (left) and the remains of a Blue Arrow 7 (including the motor tailpipe) found in Libya (right). Click on the image to enlarge.

Other remains of a Blue Arrow 7 AGM found in Alamata. The inserts show Blue Arrow 7 remains recovered in Libya. Click on the image to enlarge.

Journalists might be forced to take note if the UAE's deployment to Ethiopia is to resemble its past interventions in Yemen and Libya. This could see strikes on civilian targets like hospitals and ambulances becoming the norm rather than the exception, with little to no one held accountable for the human rights violations taking place. Like in Yemen and Libya, munition remnants like those of the Blue Arrow 7 encountered in Alamata will be there to proof it.
Special thanks to Saba.

[2] Ethiopia: Consecutive days airstrikes in Tigray’s Alamata kill 42 civilians, injure more than 150, cause massive destruction
[3] Su-27 Fighters Deployed As Bombers In Tigray War
[4] Ethiopia Acquires Chinese TL-2 Missiles For Its Wing Loong I UCAVs
[5] Deadly Ineffective: Chinese-Made Wing Loong UAVs Designate Targets For Ethiopian Su-27 Bombers
[6] Libya migrant attack: UN investigators suspect foreign jet bombed centre
[7] UAE implicated in lethal drone strike in Libya
[8] US urged to stop drone sales to UAE over civilian deaths in Yemen and Libya
[10] Tracking Arms Transfers By The UAE, Russia, Jordan And Egypt To The Libyan National Army Since 2014
[11] ደብዳብ ድሮናትን ነፈርትን ከተማ ኣላማጣ