One of the world’s most wanted extremists is purportedly dead following a precision drone strike.
Abu al-Khayr al-Masri — who has been part of the global terror group for more than 30 years and was a son-in-law of its founder, Osama bin Laden — was reportedly killed Sunday when ordnance fired from a drone near Syria’s Idlib province hit the Kia in which he was travelling.
On Monday, the Pentagon confirmed it executed a strike in northwest Syria, but did not divulge the target’s identity. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the al-Qaida-inspired group that Masri had worked alongside in Syria, acknowledged the death, as did individual jihadi leaders, according to reporting from The Guardian.
Pictures of the vehicle surfacing post attack make one thing clear: the aftermath is drastically different than what is typically left behind in a traditional drone strike.
Post drone-strike imagery almost always shows levels of mass destruction. Decimated buildings burnt to ash and responders searching for survivors. This strike shows tactical precision that is reaching new levels in collateral-damage mitigation.
The Warzone speculates technological advances allow packing an explosive charge as small as a 40mm grenade into guided weaponry allows for as little collateral damage as possible while still supplying the precision of their much heavier cousins such as the AGM-114 missile or the GBU-12 500lb laser-guided bomb.
Photos of the strike posted on social media show a car with a gaping hole in its roof after the attack but its windscreen mostly intact — leaving experts to speculate on the munitions used and the method of delivery.
Development of micro-sized munitions has been reported in the past, but their deployment into the battlefield is not widely reported. By using these smaller munitions, combatant commanders are now able to turn their “surveillance” fleet into smaller, more clandestine killers.
Other important factors are the reduction in civilian deaths and reduced collateral damage — two issues that plagued the Obama administration.
It’s no surprise the U.S. is finding ways to integrate such technology into its arsenal. In fact, the enemy has been doing it for sometime.
Both Hezbollah and ISIS are weaponizing amateur-level hobby drones, and Warzone reports the possibility either group could have used a “suicide type” drone to execute the attack that killed al-Masri — noting doing so would have required a big dose of luck, especially if the vehicle was moving at the time of the attack.
Lister told The Guardian that al-Masri’s death is extremely damaging to al-Qaida.
“As a long-time member of al-Qaida’s central Shura council and one of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s closest long-time confidants, Abu al-Khayr was jihadi royalty, meaning his death will almost certainly necessitate some form of response, whether from Syria or elsewhere in the world,” he said.
Al-Masri, also known as Ahmad Hasan Abu al Khayr, fought alongside Bin Laden in Afghanistan and spent more than a decade in detention in Iran. According to The Long War Journal, which tracks the movement of jihadis, he was released in 2015 in exchange for an Iranian diplomat who had been kidnapped in Yemen.
Al-Masri travelled to Syria to support the Nusra front, analysts said. The two groups claimed to split in July 2016 when the Nusra front changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham — a move dismissed by US officials as a rebranding effort.
The Pentagon is not releasing more beyond its initial strike release. Neither munitions nor delivery means are confirmed, nor if it was actually the U.S. strike that killed al-Masri. However, this strike could possibly be an initial glimpse into technological advances in tomorrow’s drone engagement.
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