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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2835

MQ-9 Reaper: the quiet king of the sky that took out Iranian commander

Hemantha Yapa Abeywardena writes from London…

The attack on General Qasseem Solaimani, the top Iranian commander and his close Iraqi confidant with surgical precision by two missiles, fired from the MQ-9 Reaper drone of the US Air Force, clearly illustrates a frightening aspect of modern asymmetric warfare.

Much to Iranian’s dismay, despite the use of a second aircraft as a decoy, in addition to the real one that the general was on board, his movements had been tracked down with precision by the US forces; he was eliminated on Iraqi soil without seeking any permission from the host country in question; civilian casualties were minimized while the focus had been clearly on the military entourage; the awesome power of the missiles just reduced the targets into shreds beyond recognition; it was the distinct ring that the general wore helped in identifying the body.

As soon as the news broke out in the morning, the Iranian authorities vowed revenge, with hundreds of thousands of Iranians taking to the streets. Lots of nations, including the Europeans, asked both sides to exercise restraint, fearing an imminent retaliation.

President Trump, meanwhile, having maintained a notable silence during the early hours, tweeted while tainting the Iranians by saying that the latter never won a war, but won every negotiation, something that was open to interpretation.

After a security council meeting in the evening on Friday, chaired by the Iranian Supreme Leader, however, the tone became somewhat measured; the Iranians said that they would choose the form of revenge, its timing and place in due course.

On Saturday after his funeral, however, Iran raised the stakes again by saying that they got 35 potential targets on their radar, without specifying further.

On the same day, President Trump responded that the US has identified 52 Iranian targets, in the event of an attack on US interests. He went on to say that the US would hit very fast and very hard.
Pathetically sandwiched between a Super Power and a regional power in their quest for supremacy is the beleaguered Iraqi government with its own mess - more or less of their own making.

It’s the determination of the coalition forces led by the United States and its Western allies that drove away the ISIS from Iraqi soil, while spending millions of dollars and losing the lives of their soldiers. Of course, Iran did help in the task too, especially by the commander who got killed.

MQ-9 Reaper - astonishing facts

Range: 1,850 km
Top speed: 482 km/h
Wingspan: 20 m
Unit cost: 16,900,000–16,900,000 USD (2013)
Altitude:50,000 feet
Program cost: US$11.8 billion
Engine type: Honeywell TPE331
Missiles fired: AGM-114 Hellfire

Despite these sacrifices made by the West – and Iran too - Iraqi politicians were in their usual game, enriching themselves, while ordinary Iraqis suffered on many fronts: the authorities could not make even water and electricity available round-the-clock even in relatively affluent regions, despite the country being the second top oil producer in the world.

Having been fed up with the Iraqi regime, people took to the street, transcending the usual divisions along religious and ethnic lines. As Iraqis saw Iranian influence as the key factor for their suffering, Iran got nervous about losing its influence in the neighbour and used its proxies in hunting down Iraqi protestors.

Although, Iraqi armed forces were blamed initially on the loss of lives, the former refused to take the blame citing the protestors were shot in the head by snipers, implying who really were behind over 600 deaths of Iraqi protestors.

In the aftermath of the death of General Solaimani, there were some jubilant Iraqis in certain neighbourhoods in Baghdad. It may partially display the Iraqi frustration over the involvement of Iran in their national affairs.

The US has been deploying its forces and arsenal in quite a few Middle Eastern countries, perhaps in anticipation of a direct confrontation with Iran for the past few months. Even its most ardent ally, however, never thought that the US would take out the Iranian top commander in this manner; it has been reported that Both President Bush Jnr and President Obama refused to go that far, even after the CIA tracked him down, fearing a war with Iran.

As far as President Trump is concerned, the killing of the US civilian contractor by an Iranian backed Shia militant group was the last straw. The US eliminated the most of the top layer of the Shia militant group that was responsible for the death, which prompted the followers of the group to attack the US embassy. Fearing a military response, the protestors left the embassy compound and the next day their deputy commander and the Iranian general were assassinated by the pre-dawn drone strike.

Although Iran vowed to avenge the killing, the stakes are very high for Iran: its economy is in pretty bad shape; the internal dissent over economic hardships is spreading despite being brutally suppressed; the sanctions are severe and biting on many fronts.

In these circumstances, any Iranian move against a US target will prompt the Pentagon to respond in kind with its colossal military assets in the region, stationed in the friendly allies and at sea, perhaps focussing on Iranian oil facilities as a priority in the list of targets.

In this context, some critics argue that Iran may back down exactly the way they did in the oil tank war in the 80s, when the US and Iran were engaged in similar confrontation.

The other surprising development is the way the US kept its allies in the dark, prior to the attack – something unprecedented. Even its closest ally in Europe, the UK, has not been informed in advance about the imminent attack.

It shows that the Trump administration wants to go it alone in a potential military conflict with very little enthusiasm to get allies on board. It may be a great concern for the traditional allies in general and NATO in particular.

The lukewarm response to the attack by the European leaders, meanwhile, has prompted Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, to vent his frustration in public; he single out Britain, France and Germany.

The way Pentagon handled the embassy siege and took out Iranian commanders clearly show the direction it is heading under its quiet, new boss, Dr Mark Esper; in a very short period of time, he has shown the American adversaries that he is a force to reckon with.

In short, the US under President Trump believes it is strong enough to defend itself from any threat regardless of where they pop up – something remains to be tested and seen.

- Asian Tribune -

MQ-9 Reaper: the quiet king of the sky that took out Iranian commander
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