ROME — An unarmed Italian Air Force Reaper drone has crashed in an area of Libya marked by fighting in the country’s civil conflict.
After reports of the incident began to circulate on the internet Wednesday, the Italian military general staff confirmed that “contact was lost with an Italian Air Force drone, which subsequently crashed in Libyan territory.”
The drone was “following a flight plan previously communicated to Libyan authorities,” the general staff said in a statement.
The online reports out of Libya originally asserted the aircraft was a Turkish drone operating on behalf of forces loyal to UN-recognized leader Fayez al-Sarraj, and shot down by forces fighting with General Khalifa Haftar.
Photos of the crashed drone, taken near Tarhuna, southeast of Tripoli, were then released, showing Italian insignia on the wings.
“An investigation is underway to establish the cause of the event,” said the Italian general staff.
Added an Italian defense source: the photos showed wings intact, which would imply that the drone was perhaps not shot down.
The fact that the drone crashed miles inland in Libya suggested the drone was being flown on a surveillance mission, although the general staff stated the Reaper was flying in support of Operation Mare Sicuro, an Italian mission to monitor people trafficking in the Mediterranean.
Italy operates both upgraded Predator A drones as well as Reapers, all unarmed, from its Amendola air base in southern Italy, as well as from Sigonella air base in Sicily, which is also used by the U.S. as a base for Global Hawks.
The drone fleet has been deployed in the past to Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans and Africa, and notably in Libya during the 2011 NATO air operations there.
The Italian drone that crashed in Libya was flying in the middle of a drone war currently being waged between Haftar and Al-Sarraj’s forces.
General Haftar has been using Chinese Wing Loong II drones operated by pilots from his ally, the United Arab Emirates, since he began his attempt earlier this year to storm Tripoli.
That assault prompted Turkey, an ally of Fayez al-Sarraj, to send Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones, mounting air strikes on Haftar’s forces.