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Advanced US Combat Drone Spotted Fully-Armed Over Syria’s Greater Idlib

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Advanced US Combat Drone Spotted Fully-Armed Over Syria’s Greater Idlib

Photo: US Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson

On September 17, a US General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper combat drone was spotted over the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib where many terrorist groups are active.

The drone was conducting an armed reconnaissance sortie over the eastern countryside of Idlib, specifically over the town of Ma’arrat Misrin. The town is known to be a stronghold of al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the de-facto ruler of Greater Idlib, and a number of other terrorist groups.

The MQ-9 appeared to be armed with two AGM-114 Hellfire-type missiles. The drone was also carrying an unidentified pod under its right wing, likely used for communication or intelligence gathering, and an external fuel tank under its left wing.

The external fuel tank indicates that the drone is of the more advanced MQ-9 Extended Range (ER) variant, which has an endurance of up to 34 hours.

US combat drones carried out a series of strikes on prominent terrorist commanders in Greater Idlib last year. Some of the strikes were carried out with an advanced version of the Hellfire missile known as the AGM-114R9X “Ninja Bomb”. This version has a kinetic warhead consisting of pop-out blades meant to reduce collateral damage.

On 18 August 2020, two MQ-9 drones crashed in Greater Idlib after colliding midair in a mysterious accident. Back then, Syrian sources claimed that Turkish air-defense fire was behind the accident. This is yet to be proven.

Under the rule of HTS, Greater Idlib became a large safe haven for terrorist groups and wanted terrorists in the Middle East. ISIS founder, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US special operation in the region last year.

US combat drones continue to operate over Greater Idlib. However, not a single drone strike has been reported in the region since President Joe Biden assumed office on January 20.

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