Officially designated as the Hellfire AGM-114R9X– usually shortened to R9X and sometimes known as the “Flying Ginsu” – the deadly missile has been increasingly deployed for targeted assassinations by the US Joint Special Operations Command, according to a Friday report by the UK-based The Guardian daily.
The missile’s warhead uses a combination of the force of 100pounds (45.36 kilograms) of dense material flying at high speed and six attached blades which deploy before impact to crush and slice its victims.
It is capable of breaking through armor and hardened cover, such as the walls of buildings, as well as attacking personnel and other soft targets in the open, with a sleeve over the main charge that would break up into a hail of deadly shrapnel when the missile explodes.
According to the New York Times, the latest use of the missile came on September 14, when it was deployed in Northwest Syria to assassinate an alleged top al-Qaeda commander, identified as Sayaf al-Tunsi.
While the Pentagon did not reveal much about the targeted assassination drone strike, Maj. Beth Riordan, a spokeswoman for the US Central Command (CENTCOM), confirmed a military strike near Idlib on September 14 against an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria without elaborating.
Other American military and counterterrorism officials, as well as the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that the Hellfire missile strike killed al-Tunsi, describing him as a Tunisian who was “a senior planner of al-Qaeda attacks against the West, including the United States”.
The daily further cited US military officials as saying that al-Tunsi’s death would disrupt operations of the al-Qaeda affiliate, called Hurras al-Din, which branched out of the US-backed al-Nusra Front terrorist group that sought to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The report came as the American military announced last week the deployment of Bradley fighting vehicles and more fighter jet patrols to reinforce the more than 500 US occupation troops in Syria.
According to the report, it was the second time in three months that American commandos have killed a senior Qaeda leader in Northwest Syria with these specially designed missiles, originally developed during the administration of former US President Barack Obama when Washington’s policy of targeted drone assassinations in faraway Muslim countries — such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Yemen — drew widespread condemnation for the number of civilian casualties caused by the strikes.
The report further revealed that the US military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command, with help from the spy agency CIA, “is carrying out a shadow war against a different terrorist threat — a small but virulent al-Qaeda affiliate — that American officials say is plotting attacks against the West.”
Such operations, it added, are carried out in a corner of Syria, where the US military maintains no troops on the ground.
According to the Times, American Special Operations forces also used a R9X missile in June to kill Khaled al-Aruri, “the de facto leader of the Qaeda branch in Syria”.
American officials further confirmed the use of the secretive missiles in two earlier instances, one by the CIA in Northwest Syria and another by the Joint Special Operations Command in Yemen.