LONDON: An alliance between Ankara and Addis Ababa is fueling concerns that Turkish drones will be used in Ethiopia’s escalating civil war.
The military cooperation agreement was signed in August by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The terms of the deal have not yet been made public, but Reuters reported in October that Ethiopia had requested Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 drones, considered to be among the most effective munitions of their type in the world.
The conflict in Ethiopia recently entered a new phase after beginning over a year ago, when government forces recaptured the Tigrayan capital Mekelle from separatist Tigrayans.
Government troops were later expelled from Mekelle, and an offensive by the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front was initiated beyond the state’s borders, targeting Amhara and Afar provinces.
Recently, the TPLF announced that its new stated goal is to capture Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.
A UN report released on Wednesday concluded that all parties in the conflict had committed abuses, including war crimes.
The UN has also sounded the alarm over the humanitarian situation in Tigray and elsewhere in Ethiopia, saying only 10 percent of aid meant for the province was ever delivered.
While neither Anakara nor Addis Ababa have publicly commented on the deal, last month Ethiopia-based journalist Martin Plaut was reportedly handed a fragment from a Turkish-manufactured guided bomb used against Tigrayan forces.
It cannot be conclusively determined from where it was fired, but Western experts said the missile from which the fragment came can be used by the Turkish drones, The Guardian reported.
Alex de Waal, director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University, told the newspaper: “The fighting is already at an intense scale and ferocity, with perhaps 100,000 soldiers already dead on the Ethiopian side. Five million civilians are in need of food aid as a result of the conflict, and yet Addis is still shopping for drones and other arms.”
Turkey’s drones themselves are expected to increase the ferocity of the fighting in Ethiopia and could destabilize other parts of Africa, experts have said.
“What we are seeing is the consequences of the international community not wanting to deal with drone proliferation,” Chris Coles, from UK-based NGO Drone Wars, told The Guardian.
“Drones are heating up conflicts in the region because pilotless munitions lower the threshold for war. A country might be condemned for supplying boots on the ground to intervene in a conflict, but there is far less complaint if instead they are supplying drones.”
Global demand for the Turkish drones spiked worldwide after their decisive use by Azerbaijan last year in its short-lived war with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
They are manufactured by Baykar Makina, whose Chief Technology Officer Selcuk Bayraktar is married to Erdogan’s younger daughter.