Hellfire R9X: the Pentagon's weapon of choice to take out terrorist leaders in Syria - Task & Purpose

The US military is quietly killing terrorist leaders in Syria with its secret missile packed with swords

Author:
Publish date:

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

The U.S. military has been quietly taking out terrorist leaders in Syria with a modified Hellfire missile packed full of swords, The New York Times reported Friday.

Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Thursday, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Christopher Miller revealed that in Syria, "Hurras al-Din — a group made up of several al Qaeda veterans — has suffered successive losses of key leaders and operatives."

And, the secretive Hellfire AGM-114R9X missile, a U.S. weapon typically referred to as the R9X, reportedly played a role in some of those losses.

Related: The Pentagon's missile full of swords has likely struck again in Syria

On Sept. 14, a U.S. Reaper drone operated by special operations forces killed Sayyaf al-Tunsi, a senior attack planner for al Qaeda and its affiliates, with an R9X, The New York Times reported, citing U.S. military and counterterrorism officials, who said that the hit would disrupt Hurras al-Din operations.

Following an R9X strike in June believed to have killed two Hurras al-Din members, the most recent strike marks at least the second time in three months the weapon has been used.

The R9X, The Times reports, has proven useful for targeting terrorist leaders in urban areas, where they assume the U.S. is more hesistant to engage due to the heightened risk of civilian casualties.

The so-called "Ninja Bomb" or "Flying Ginsu," a modified Hellfire equipped with a non-explosive warhead that kills enemies with 100 pounds of metal, sheer force, and six blades, first became public knowledge when The Wall Street Journal reported its existence in May 2019.

The weapon's development began during the Obama administration as an airstrike armament less likely to kill civilians than other battlefield options.

At the time of The Wall Street Journal report, it was believed that the U.S. had used the weapon only about half a dozen times.

It is suspected to have been used to kill Ahmad Hasan Abu Khayr al-Masri, a top al Qaeda leader, in Syria in February 2017 and Jamel Ahmed Mohammed Ali al-Badawi, the al Qaeda operative who masterminded the deadly October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, in Yemen in January 2019.

There have been several other suspected R9X strikes since then.

The New York Times reports that while explosive Hellfire missiles are preferred for groups of terrorist targets, the non-explosive R9X is the "weapon of choice" for eliminating leaders and other high-value targets who are traveling alone.

More from Business Insider: