For a year, US officials said that ending a terrorist threat in Afghanistan without troops on the ground would be difficult, but not impossible. Last weekend, the United States did just that: killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri with a CIA drone strike.
Previous high-profile air strikes had killed innocent civilians. In this case, the United States carefully chose to use a type of Hellfire missile that greatly minimized the chance of collateral casualties.
Although US officials did not publicly confirm which variant of the Hellfire was used, experts and others familiar with counterterrorism operations said a likely option was the highly secret Hellfire R9X, known as “ninja bomb”.
That possible use of the R9X, said Klon Kitchen, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former intelligence analyst, suggests the United States wanted to kill Al-Zawahiri with “a limited probability of collateral destruction for relevant political reasons.”
Originally designed as a anti-tank missile in the 1980sthe Hellfire has been used by military and intelligence agencies over the past two decades to attack targets in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and other places.
precision guided missiles can be mounted on helicopters and drones and are used extensively in combat around the world. More than 100,000 Hellfire missiles have been sold to the United States and other countries.according to Ryan Brobst, an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank.
“It can do enough damage to destroy most targets, like vehicles and buildings, but not enough to flatten city blocks and cause significant civilian casualties.”Brobst said.
The US military has routinely used Hellfire missiles to kill high value targetsincluding a senior Al-Qaeda leader in Syria last year, and Al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011.
The United States had multiple options for attack. It could have used a traditional Hellfire, a bomb dropped from a manned aircraft, or a much riskier assault by ground forces. US Navy SEALs, for example, they flew to Pakistan in helicopters and eliminated Osama bin Laden in a raid.
In this case, the CIA opted for a drone strike. And although the CIA does not usually confirm its counterterrorism missions and jealously guards information about the attacks it carries out, US government officials have said that two Hellfire missiles were fired at the balcony of the building where Al-Zawahiri lived in Kabul.
Images released from the building show damage to the balcony, where the United States says al-Zawahiri was, but the rest of the house is standing and has suffered no serious damage.
Unlike other models of the Hellfire, the R9X does not carry an explosive charge. Instead, you have a series of six rotating blades that emerge on their final approach to a targetKitchen said. “One of its uses is to open vehicles and other obstacles to reach the target without having to use an explosive warhead,” he added.
US officials and experts made it clear this week that avoiding civilian casualties was a crucial element in the choice of weapon.
Less than a year ago, an attack by an American drone – with a more conventional Hellfire missile – hit a white Toyota Corolla sedan in a Kabul neighborhood, killing 10 civilians nearbyincluding seven children. Amid the chaotic US military pullout from Afghanistan, US forces believed there were explosives in the car and that it posed an imminent threat to troops on the ground. It was, according to military leaders, a “tragic mistake”
A former US official said the likely choice of an R9X is an example of the administration’s effort to find ways to minimize collateral damage and prevent the loss of innocent lives. that missile is a very precise weapon that attacks in a very small areasaid the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss counterterrorism operations.
An administration official revealed Monday that The United States investigated the construction of the house in which al-Zawahiri was staying to ensure that the operation could be carried out without threatening the structural integrity of the building and also minimize the risks of killing civilians, including their family members They were in other parts of the house.
“I would say this is by far a lower risk option,” said Tom Karako, a missile defense expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. The use of the Hellfire, he explained it, “reflects a high degree of caution rather than risk.”
No. Although the United States has provided billions of dollars in military assistance to help Ukraine fight invading Russian troops, it shows cautious about providing weapons that can fire into Russiawhich could escalate the conflict or draw the United States into the war.
Thus, The United States has so far provided no Hellfire missiles or drones that can fire them. Instead, the United States has supplied smaller kamikaze drones, such as the Switchblade and the Phoenix Ghostwhich instead of firing missiles, explode when they hit a target.