Satellite images reveal 'UAE military support for Ethiopia'

Satellite images reveal 'UAE supplying Ethiopian government with arms': report
3 min read
26 November, 2021
New revelations of arms deliveries from the UAE to Ethiopia indicate strong UAE support for Addis Ababa in its war against Tigrayan forces.
The extent of the military support remains unclear [Getty]

Satellite imagery obtained by Al Jazeera reveals that the United Arab Emirates is providing extensive military support to the Ethiopian government in the fight against Tigrayan forces in the year-long civil war which has killed tens of thousands of civilians and displaced millions.

The investigation monitored air bases in the UAE and Ethiopia and found evidence of more than 90 flights between Sweihan Base, Abu Dhabi and Harar Meda Base, south of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Abab,  between September and October 2021. In many instances, the precise origins and destinations of these flights have been deliberately concealed or disguised on official flight records. 

The air-bridge between the UAE and Ethiopia has operated with the assistance of two additional private shipping firms: a Spanish company which organised more than 50 “military support” flights between the countries, and a Ukrainian company which organised more than 30, according to Al Jazeera.

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UAE-Ethiopia relations

The extent of this military support remains unclear, as questions remain over whether weapons and equipment are coming directly from the UAE, or whether it is simply a transit point for deliveries from elsewhere.

Earlier this month, the UAE-based Emirates Red Crescent donated ambulances, food, and medical supplies to Ethiopia, including in areas controlled by the Tigray. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed has sought to position himself as a somewhat of a mediator, or peacemaker, in horn of Africa. However, the new revelations indicate strong UAE support for Addis Ababa in their war against Tigrayan forces and shed serious doubt on any supposed neutrality in the region's politics.

The news also comes as fighting between the two sides escalates. Tigrayan fighters claim to be advancing towards Addis Ababa, and to have taken control of a town 200 km from the capital. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali – winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize – announced yesterday that he will head to the front lines to lead the army “from the battlefront”.

Chinese drones

In one of the new images of an Ethiopian military base, there appears to be an aircraft matching the dimensions of a Chinese manufactured Wing Loong drone. In early November, photos published online allegedly taken in the Tigray province also showed a Wing Loong drone, however the location and source of the photos could not be verified at the time. 

The Ethiopian government has reportedly been building an arsenal of Chinese and Turkish drones in a bid to gain an edge over rebel Tigrayan forces, however a media ban and communications blackout had until now made it difficult to corroborate these reports.

Now, fresh evidence of the export and use of armed drones to Ethiopia is likely to raise serious questions. Earlier this month, the US set out a path for sanctions against the African nation following  allegations of violations of international law by the Ethiopian army. The European Parliament has also demanded an EU arms embargo against Ethiopia.