The building (left) in which the head of Al-Qaeda Al-Zawahiri was probably located at the time of the attack that killed him

Hellfire R9X, the flying guillotine with which the United States killed Al-Zawahiri

The look of the correspondent

‘Hellfire R9X’


US media point out that, with almost total probability, the weapon used to kill the leader of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was the “ninja bomb”, a missile that before hitting deploys six blades of one meter long each and that was devised to eliminate targets without causing civilian casualties

The building (left) in which Al-Qaeda chief Al-Zawahiri was likely attacked in Kabul.Maxar Technologies | AFP
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If they put him in a James Bond movie, he would look like the typical Hollywood ghost. It is a missile that, after being launched from an airplane, helicopter or ground vehicle, flies for 8 kilometers, until it finds the target that has been designated for it and that, a few seconds before impact, deploys six blades approximately one meter long. each. The combination of the impact of the 500 kilos of the missile plus its swords, launched at 1,600 kilometers per hour, are enough to liquidate the person who is the target.

It is the ‘Hellfire R9X’, a missile that the United States developed under the presidency of Barack Obama to launch surgical strikes against terrorist leaders without causing civilian casualties. It has been used at least six times in five countries: Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Somalia. And it has always been launched from drones, that is, unmanned planes that are sometimes driven in places like the north of the state of Virginia or the outskirts of the city of Las Vegas, 12,000 kilometers in a straight line from their targets.

It has been the case of the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the man who radicalized Osama Bin Laden, who was reached at 71 years of age in what would be his last recitation of the ‘fajr’ as he stepped out onto the balcony of his home in Kabul, Afghanistan. Two ‘Hellfire R9X’ missiles were fired from the drone carrying them through the Afghan sky, unfurling their long, sharp blades and hurtling over the balcony. In a blink of an eye, one of the brains of the attack on the Twin Towers I was torn to shreds, just as it counts Luis Miquel Hurtado in his chronicle.

For an operator sitting in front of a screen to be able to launch a missile so precise that does not need to explode, but kills only with its own kinetic energy, tearing the target to pieces it is a new sign of the automation of warfare. An automation that has been running for some time. Because the US Armed Forces and the CIA have used the R9X to behead -and not necessarily in a figurative sense- the leaders of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda for years, although its existence was only known when in 2019 the newspaper The Wall Street Journal unveiled it According to that newspaper, the United States considered using this weapon to assassinate Osama bin Laden in 2011, but ruled out the option because the missile was in the development phase.

US kills Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri with a drone in AfghanistanTHE WORLD

Neither the Department of Defense nor the CIA nor the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, confirmed or denied the existence of the weapon, which in these cases implies an acknowledgment that the missile exists. Apparently so real that, although it has no name beyond R9X, the military and CIA drone and aircraft operators have given it two nicknames: the “ninja bomb” and the “flying ginsu,” the latter referring to R9X. a very popular brand of kitchen knives in that country.

The existence of the ‘ginsu’ solves a question that defense experts were unable to explain: How was it possible that in some images of Al Qaeda and Islamic State leaders killed in targeted assassinations there was no sign of explosions or fire? The best known case is that of Al Qaeda’s number two, the Egyptian Abu Khayr al Masri, who was killed in February 2017 in a CIA drone strike in the Syrian province of Idlib. Numerous photos of Al Masri’s car show a hole in the car’s roof and a cracked windshield, but no signs of an explosion or fire. In fact, the windshield wiper blades are still intact.

This “flying dagger” is actually a variant of the ‘Hellfire’ (literally ‘Hellfire’) anti-tank missile, a weapon that never makes headlines but has changed the course of history in the last two decades. Designed in the 1970s so that A-10 planes and helicopters would launch it against the Warsaw Pact tank divisions in Germany in a world war that fortunately never existed, the ‘Hellfire’ ended up being mounted in 2001 on the drones that the United States began to spend that year in Afghanistan. Since then, The missile conceived as a Soviet tank destroyer has become the terror of Islamist fanatics around the world. Now, with the R9X, the ‘Hellfire’ has already entered the realm of legend.

It is the culmination of an old dream of the US Armed Forces that began with the use of the first laser-guided bombs in Vietnam 51 years ago and accelerated in the 1980s, when that country changed its military doctrine in the event of an eventual war with the Soviet Union and went on to put an emphasis on the liquidation of the leaders of that country.

During all this time, The USA has been developing more and more precise bombs, which allows saving in ammunition, to carry more explosives -since these are smaller- and, also, something very important in a democracy: to reduce to the maximum the number of civilian victims that can be used by the enemy to undermine public support for the war.

This is how the Pentagon came to drop bombs without ammunition, but loaded with cement, on anti-aircraft batteries in Iraq starting in 1999. Later, during the occupation of that country, Washington used similar weapons in combat in urban areas. The US and France have also used inert cement-filled bombs in Libya. According to journalist Mark Bowden of the magazine Atlantic, The United States also has a drone that, thanks to its camera, literally works like a flying rifle. that can be driven thousands of miles away. The existence of that techno-sniper has not been confirmed. For now, we only have the remote controlled guillotine.


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