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The War Nerd November 13, 2002
Yemen: A Tough Zit to Pop
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 4 of 4
It's nice to see the Hellfire getting a little action, because it's one of the real success stories of US weapons design. It was developed to provide attack helicopters, specifically the AH 64 ("Apache") with a standoff weapon which could kill all Soviet armored vehicles. The name stands for "Helicopter-launched Fire-and-Forget" missile. But "Hellfire" makes the point pretty nicely on its own. The missile acquires the target before it's fired. Once the helicopter enters the target data, it can fire the missile and immediately take evasive action. The missile guides itself to the target.

The idea was that Hellfire would allow AH 64 pilots the chance to attack Soviet convoys and get out of sight quickly, before the ZSU-23 quad AA vehicles that traveled with all Soviet convoys could bring their guns to bear. The Apache would track the Soviet convoy, in tandem with smaller scout choppers, then pop up out of the forest (they were imagining a Central European NATO/Warsaw Pact scenario), launch its Hellfires, then zoom off low and fast.

The Israelis appreciated the Hellfire before anybody else. They have a good eye for the American weapons that really work. Hellfires have been weapon of choice in the strikes Israel's been making on Hamas leaders travelling in their cars. The Israelis were also the big pioneers in using RPVs in combat. So you can see that this CIA strike in Yemen, using a Hellfire fired from an RPV, has IDF/Mossad influence written all over it.

The whole notion of assassinating your enemies on their home ground is a big Israeli tradition too, of course. Mossad and Shin Beth have a rep that they will track you down anywhere, no matter what it costs or how long it takes. The CIA doesn't have that kind of reputation. I hate to say it, but they used to be kind of a joke when it came to assassinations. I remember a joke I heard from one of my quasi-spook net friends: "In 1964 there was an attempt to assassinate Sukarno. Everybody knew immediately that the CIA was behind it, because the bomb killed every single person in a crowded room EXCEPT Sukarno."

But the CIA did it right this time. And durn, they were proud of themselves. Whatever happened to the "cloak of secrecy"? Everybody at CIA was on the phone, calling reporters, faxing graphic shots of the vaporized SUV to the wire services. I mean I appreciate a good kill shot-we get way too few in this war-but it doesn't make me respect them.

If we stick to firing Hellfires from RPVs, we may be able to do the job in Yemen -- kill the people who need killing without losing anybody of our own. We might even be able to bribe some locals to kidnap the people we want. All that tribal "hospitality" crap tends to evaporate when you offer some lice-ridden sheik a million bucks to hand over his "guest." A few deals like that, and we can bring the people we want to Gauntanamo for one of those special US Marine Corps makeovers, with blindfolds and earplugs, manacles and white noise-the whole "Welcome to the World of Consequences" treatment.

That would be the smart way to do it. But it's not like we just found out about Yemen. The Cole got blown up in October, 2000 -- and all we heard for two years was bitch-fights from every agency in DC about whose fault it was. It's a classic matchup: Yemen vs. the USA -- a dirt-poor little country with no government at all vs. a big rich superpower with so much government it can't seem to get anything done.

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.
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