Unnamed US government officials have confirmed that a US MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was shot down over Yemen earlier this week. The UAV was downed over the Dhamar Governorate, south-east of the capital Sana’a.
It was not immediately clear exactly whose MQ-9 was downed. There a number of likely culprits including the United States Air Force (USAF), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) – all of whom operate the Reaper in the region. Exactly what the MQ-9’s tasking was is also open to speculation.
American Reapers, however, are no strangers to the skies over Yemen. CIA and JSOC-operated aircraft have been employed in both ISR (or Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and in kinetic strikes against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) elements. They have also flown ‘top cover’ for a number of JSOC raids targeting AQAP leadership figures in Yemen or attempting to rescue Western hostages. More controversially there are claims that US Reapers and other UAV platforms including the Global Hawk have been employed to support UAE and Saudi forces in their war against the Houthi separatists.
This is also not the first an MQ-9 has been downed over Yemen. In October 2017, another mystery MQ-9 was shot down over Sana’a with CENTCOM (US Central Command, responsible for the region) simply stating; “We assess that an MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle was shot down in western Yemen on Oct. 1, 2017.” The type of missile used by Houthi air defense was never publicly identified.
Another MQ-9 was downed in June this year. The missile this time was identified as a Russian SA-6 series (NATO reporting name ‘Gainful’) surface to air missile (SAM) likely captured from Yemeni government forces. The US allege that the Houthi were trained on the system by Iranian advisers. As for this latest incident, a Houthi spokesperson claimed; “The rocket which hit it was developed locally and will be revealed soon at a press conference” before adding with Taliban-like comedic menace, “Our skies are no longer open to violations as they once were and the coming days will see great surprises.”