Mystery Yemen Drone strike renews questions over US drive

SANAA: Onlookers gathered around a small, four-door car coated in dried mud, peering through its shattered windows and torn-away roof at three dead men inside.
Tribal leaders identified the three — killed in late January near Yemen’s central city of Marib — as suspected members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, long considered one of the extremist group’s most dangerous branches.
They appear to have been killed in a rare drone strike by the U.S., using a weapon that’s been deployed sparingly in the past, typically against high-value targets.
The strike renews questions over the U.S. drone campaign in Yemen, now two decades old and just as secretive as ever despite promises from the Biden administration to put more rules in place to govern them. That secrecy, coupled with a years-long war ripping at Yemen, makes it even more difficult to determine and assess the reasons behind suspected American strikes.
The suspected al-Qaida members appear to have been killed by a Hellfire R9X, otherwise known as the “flying Ginsu” or “knife bomb,” based on images of the wreckage analyzed by The Associated Press and weapons experts. The R9X, known only to be used by U.S. forces, has been used in other attacks attributed to America, including the Kabul airstrike last year that killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
The men killed in the Jan. 30 strike were not prominent members of the extremist group. One was identified as a bomb-maker, with little else known about him.
“The R9X is for high-value target killing and we don’t have any ’Who is this guy, why does he merit this now?’” said David Sterman, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based think tank New America, which for years has tracked U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. “If it is a U.S. strike, it raises substantial questions about what is the state of the U.S. drone war in Yemen.” The White House declined to answer questions about the apparent strike,
U.S. Air Forces Central, which oversees the Middle East, said it didn’t have any information that its forces carried out any strike in Marib. The CIA, which is believed to have conducted R9X strikes including the one that killed al-Zawahri, declined to comment.
The U.S. government has released few public details about the the R9X Hellfire, which comes from a class of anti-tank missile used across the U.S. military for two decades. Analysts say that instead of a standard explosive warhead, the R9X has six rotating blades that pop just before the missile hits a target. In theory, this helps direct the weapon at a specific person and prevents wider casualties.
The scenes after attacks differ greatly, depending on the type of drone used.
Drones carrying explosives would leave smoldering rubble or even a crater, depending on the size of the munition. In suspected R9X attacks, such as the 2017 strike that killed a deputy al-Qaida leader in Syria, the roofs of targeted cars are torn through with clean lines across a multitude of cuts, while the rest of the vehicle remains intact. –Agencies