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US uses ‘Flying Ginsu’ missile to kill three al-Qaeda militants in Yemen

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The United States is believed to be responsible for a missile attack in Yemen that killed three al-Qaeda militants.

Local media reported that the missile attack was conducted in the remote Al-Samada area of the Wadi Abeda region of Marib province on Monday evening. “The strike was precise, and the car’s occupants were killed instantly,” reports said. Pictures taken at the scene show that the missile appears to have been a Hellfire R9X Flying Ginsu.

According to other local media outlets, Abu Hassan Al-Hadrami, an Al-Qaeda bomb maker who escaped a previous drone attack in the same area near Marib in December, was among the dead. Hadrami was an al-Qaeda leader and an experienced explosives manufacturer who had risen in the ranks because of his skill in making explosives.

Hadrami was present last month when al-Qaeda’s explosive manufacturer in Yemen, Abul Khair Abdul Wahed al-Najdi, was killed in a missile strike on a house in Wadi Obeida. Hadrami had then escaped injury.

The United States considers al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), to be one of the most dangerous branches of the terrorist group.

Related: US Airstrike kills 30 al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia

What is the Hellfire R9X Missile

An illustration of a blade-carrying Hellfire missile.

The Hellfire R9X is a non-explosive variant of the reliable Hellfire missile that has been used by the U.S. to target terrorists who hide in large and often crowded cities.

In contrast to a traditional Hellfire missile that explodes on contact and can cause collateral damage, the R9X instead uses six 18-inch blades that extend from its body just before impact to eliminate the target. 

The missile was developed to target terrorist leaders who would often hide in areas with many women and children in order to prevent U.S. strikes against them.

The Obama administration placed an emphasis on minimizing civilian casualties. Therefore, the CIA and the Department of Defense began to work on a non-explosive version of the well-known and reliable Hellfire missile. While the exact timeline of the R9X’s development is unknown, it was an option for the operation to take out Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Related: AGM-179 JAGM: Replacing the legendary Hellfire missile

American involvement in Yemen

A civil war between the internationally-recognized government, which is supported by Saudi Arabia, and Houthi rebels supported by Iran has been raging in Yemen since 2014.

President Biden ended all offensive support for the war effort. However, the U.S. is supplying the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence and there still remains a small contingent of special operations personnel from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the CIA that conduct drone strikes on al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorists which are being slowly neutralized in the country.  

It isn’t known if JSOC or CIA conducted this latest mission.

Feature Image: Staff cross loads a AGM 114 Hellfire missile from one MQ-1 Predator drone to another May 16, 2006. (Photo by Master Sgt. Brian Ferguson/U.S. Air Force)

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Steve Balestrieri