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When President Biden confirmed on Monday that a US drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri at a villa in Kabul, Afghanistan, he said the operation was “carefully planned” to kill only the longtime terrorist mastermind. “No family members were injured and there were no civilian casualties,” Biden said.
Drone strikes, usually carried out using laser-guided Hellfire missiles, usually leave craters in the ground, but photos of the house after the strike al-Zawahiri was staying in showed minimal damage. This has led to widespread speculation that the CIA killed al-Zawahiri with a modified Hellfire called the R9X – and known colloquially as the ‘ninja bomb’, ‘knife bomb’ or ‘flying Ginsu’, a tribute to a popular infomercial knife. which could supposedly cut through anything. Here’s how the US apparently pulled off such a precise strike:
What is the R9X?
The R9X is a specific of the AGM-114 Hellfire, a type of precision-guided rocket originally developed in the 1980s by Lockheed Martin as the “Heliborne, Laser, Fire, and Forget Missile” anti-tank rocket. , later shortened to Hellfire. They are now usually fired from drones, helicopters and other aircraft. Unlike most Hellfires, the R9X does not have a conventional explosive warhead. Instead, it has six rotating blades that cut through the target.
“It can do enough damage to destroy most targets such as vehicles and buildings without causing enough damage at the block level and causing significant civilian casualties,” said Ryan Brobst, analyst at the Foundation for the defense of democracies. The Associated Press.
The R9X was developed beginning in 2011 in response to then-President Barack Obama’s emphasis on avoiding civilian deaths during drone strikes against terrorist targets in Iraq, Afghanistan , Syria and other conflict areas. It was created “for the express purpose of reducing civilian casualties”, said a former US official. The Wall Street Journal in 2019, when the newspaper confirmed the existence of the R9X and its use in at least two specific strikes, one by the Pentagon and the other by the CIA.
The R9X was, however, used as early as 2017 against al-Zawahiri MP Abu Khayr al-Masri in Syria. Photos of the car hit by the Hellfire variant showed a hole through which the missile ripped through the roof and tore its occupants apart, but no signs of an explosion.
How it works?
Once the remote drone operator gets live visual confirmation of the target and clears the fire, the Hellfire follows laser guidance to the person marked for death. Before impact, the drone’s six sharp blades fan out and begin spinning rapidly using the kinetic energy of the five-foot-long rocket – hence the nickname “Flying Ginsu”.
The R9X is “clearly” something developed by “a few guys” who “got stoned, looked at each other – and watched a bunch of Acme cartoons – and thought, ‘Hey, what if we could drop an anvil from the sky? joked Dan Smock, a U.S. Army veteran and former USAID employee who said Task and objective he had lived in the house in Kabul where al-Zarahawi was killed. “And then the guy next to him just finished watching infomercials for some reason because that’s his thing, and he goes, ‘Yeah, but what if we make it a Slap Chop anvil? “”
How did the United States find al-Zawahiri and know where he would stand alone?
US officials reportedly tracked al-Zawahiri’s wife and children to the villa in Kabul’s upscale Sherpur neighborhood and then learned that al-Zawahiri had also moved in. Former senior CIA official Marc Polymeropoulos told BBC News it’s likely the US used human spies, signals intelligence and other methods to confirm al-Zawahiri’s presence. . A Biden administration official also said the United States had reviewed the construction of the home to ensure that the drone attack would not threaten its structural integrity or kill people in other parts of the house. The villa.
Officials also said US intelligence studied al-Zawahiri’s “lifestyle” at home to find out his habits, and that’s how they learned al-Zawahiri spent time alone on the upper balcony each morning. “Reports said the CIA had intelligence that he liked to hang out on the balcony, and I thought, ‘Of course he would, that was a nice balcony,'” Smock said. The Guardian.
Al-Zawahiri’s strike “looks like a model application” of a targeted assassination, William Banks of Syracuse University’s Institute for Security Policy and Law told BBC News. “It seems they were very careful and deliberate in this case to find him in a place and at a time where they could hit him and not hurt anyone else.”
is al-Zawahiri really dead this time?
This is not the first report of al-Zawahiri’s death, but National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the United States had “visual confirmation” that he had died in the attack. The Taliban, which has ruled Afghanistan since the United States pulled out last summer and its allied government collapsed, confirmed and criticized the strike, and on Thursday the group insisted that he “has no knowledge of the arrival and residence” of al-Zawahri in Afghanistan. .
The United States says al-Zawahiri was staying at the home of a senior aide to Sirajuddin Haqqani, a militant leader and deputy principal to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatallah Akhundzada.
It’s ‘bizarre’ to think al-Zawahiri died so quickly after decades of plotting death and destruction, says Smock Task and goal. “This morning when the story came out, I read it…and I was like, you go from ‘That’s weird’ to ‘That’s really surreal’ to ‘That’s funny as hell. ‘hell,’ to what I’m currently at: ‘Where’s my bourbon breakfast?'”
“I finally found the arc in my head,” Smock added. “I think to myself, let’s recap: a two-time Iraqi veteran is living in a house that was probably built with opium funds and then rented to the Taliban who then hid the leader of al-Qaeda there as a than Airbnb and he got hit by a Hellfire. It’s a weird loop.”
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