Drones are not uncommon over Idlib city. Indeed, it is strange for a day to go by with out their buzzing overhead throughout the day and night. These days, four separate air forces are active over the Idlib Governorate. The Russians, the Syrians, the Turkish and the United States all have their eyes on the region for different reasons. For the second time in five months in Syria, US drones have deployed the mysterious, so-called ‘ninja’ kinetic missile – the Hellfire R9X.
According to the Syrian Civil Defense twitter bot account @Sentry_Syria, two drones appeared over Idlib city at 3:05PM on 14th September. At least one of these drones was Turkish according to FlightRadar 24. Then, starting at 3:56PM, two armed drones arrived over the city. The drones were American RQ-9 Reapers, armed with the new R9X Hellfire missile. These drones are used by the CIA extensively over Syria and have seen much use in Idlib this year. Ten minutes after arrival on station, an airstrike was carried out against a silver Santa Fe SUV. These vehicles are a favorite of jihadist leadership in Syria.
The attack was quick. The missile unique. The result decisive. Three days after the 19th anniversary of 9/11 and the Americans had just eliminated another al Qaeda target. The missile used was the R9X, a variant of the AGM-114 Hellfire. While a conventional Hellfire carries and explosive payload, the R9X is essentially a flying set of swords or blades.
This strike is yet another in a growing list of American targeted assassinations of Al Qaeda leadership in Syria. The imagery from the scene is difficult to look at. Local sources named the dead man inside the vehicle as Sayyaf al-Tunisi, a member of Al Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al Din. Identification of the man was difficult. The missile had decapitated, dismembered and disembowelled the occupant while also shredding his clothes.
The missile penetrated through the vehicle’s roof on the driver’s side and destroyed the whole section of the vehicle. The collapsed roof and ruptured door can be seen in images that were quickly shared on social media. The driver was almost certainly killed on impact.
The R9X Hellfire will continue to be a potent weapon in the American arsenal. We have discussed its use in previous Overt Defense articles, with the most recent deployment of the missile occurring in June. The lack of explosive payload allows precise strikes on targets in environments they previously were not able to operate in without the fear of civilian casualties. This latest strike on a main street of Idlib, in the middle of the day, is further proof of American confidence in this new and deadly weapon.