Turkey expands armed drone sales to Ethiopia and Morocco - sources
By Orhan Coskun, Jonathan Spicer and Ece Toksabay
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey has expanded its exports of armed drones by negotiating sales agreements with Morocco and Ethiopia after its successful use in international disputes, according to four sources familiar with the agreements.
Any drone shipments to Ethiopia risk fueling tensions in the already strained relations between Ankara and Cairo, which conflict with Addis Ababa over a hydropower plant on the Blue Nile.
Two Egyptian security sources said Cairo asked the United States and some European nations to help freeze any deal. A third Egyptian source said any agreement in talks between Cairo and Ankara would need to be lifted and clarified in order to re-establish links.
Turkey, Ethiopia and Morocco have not officially announced any armed drone deals, but several sources familiar with the agreements have given Reuters details.
A Turkish official said Ethiopia and Morocco had both requested the purchase of Bayraktar TB2 drones in agreements that could include spare parts guarantees and training.
A diplomat asking for anonymity separately said Morocco had received the first batch of armed drones it ordered in May. Ethiopia plans to acquire them, but the status of this order is less clear, the envoy said.
The sources didn't say how many drones were involved in the deals or did financial details.
Ukraine and its Turkish NATO partner Poland have also ordered armed drones, which, according to military experts, are cheaper than market rivals from Israel, China and the USA.
Official data shows that Turkey's arms and aviation exports have risen sharply in the past two months to Morocco and Ethiopia, but does not provide details on drone sales.
Ethiopia's military and the Prime Minister's Office did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
The Moroccan government was not immediately available for comment. His military does not publicly discuss procurement.
Turkey's leading defense procurement and development agency did not immediately respond to a written request for comment. The drone manufacturer Bayraktar, whose TB2 model was designed by President Tayyip Erdogan's son-in-law, also did not respond to a request for comment.
The growing interest in armed drones gives a boost to the Turkish government, which is trying to increase its exports to alleviate its economic problems, and underscores the growing importance of armed drones in modern warfare.
The Turkish military deployed drones last year in Syria as well as Libya, where Ankara backed the Tripoli-based government against eastern forces backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
In Nagorno-Karabakh, the drones helped Turkish ally Azerbaijan defeat the armed forces backed by Armenia.
Arms and aviation exports to Ethiopia rose to $ 51 million in the first three months of this year, from $ 203,000 in the same period last year, with increases in August and September, according to the Turkish Exporters' Assembly.
Exports to Morocco over the same period were $ 78.6 million - $ 62 million in September alone - compared to $ 402,000 last year
Some media in Morocco have reported the arrival of armed drones from Turkey.
A Facebook page identifying itself as the unofficial Moroccan military forum reported last month that the first TB2 drones from an order of 13 had arrived from Turkey and that the armed forces had sent officers to Turkey for pilot training.
Overall, Turkish arms and aviation exports totaled US $ 2.1 billion in the first three quarters of this year, up 39% from US $ 1.5 billion last year, according to the Turkish Exporters' Assembly.
(Additional reporting by Aidan Lewis in Cairo and Ahmed Eljechtimi in Rabat; writing by Jonathan Spicer; editing by Timothy Heritage)
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