U.S. Drone Strike Reportedly Kills ISIS No. 2

A fully armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle taxis down the runway at an air base in Afghanistan on its way to another wartime mission.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Chalk up another high-value militant killed by a U.S. drone strike.

Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, the second-highest ranking member of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, was killed Aug. 18 while traveling in a vehicle near Mosul in Iraq by a munition fired from an unmanned aircraft, according to a statement from the White House (see below).

Hayali, who also goes by Hajji Mutazz, was the top deputy to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi, helped shuttle arms into and out of Syria, and was instrumental in planning the operation to take over the city of Mosul, among other offensives, according to the White House.

The type of drone used in the attack wasn't mentioned, though it was likely the MQ-1 Predator -- the work horse of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- or the bigger MQ-9 Reaper (shown above).

Both General Atomics-made remotely piloted aircraft have flown hundreds of missions in the campaign so far, according to a recent article by David Axe, a reporter for The Daily Beast:

"Predator drones and their larger cousins the Reapers, carrying 100-pound Hellfire missiles and 500-pound precision-guided bombs, have accounted for 875 of those airstrikes, officials at the Air Force’s main drone base in Nevada tell The Daily Beast. And on the raids where manned planes hauled the weapons, the Predators and Reapers have played a vital supporting role.
The strike comes at a time when the Pentagon is planning to ramp up the number of  combat air patrols by armed surveillance drones it flies around the clock, from about 60 today to 90 by 2019, according to an article this week in The Wall Street Journal.

Yet the Air Force, which operates the aircraft, has struggled to meet even the current demand.

Indeed, so many drone pilots have left the service that officials had to cut the number of so-called CAPs from a high of 65 a day in recent months. (They had previously planned to cut the number of patrols to 55, but that changed after the U.S. launched airstrikes last year against ISIS.)

The Air Force has unveiled new bonuses for drone pilots and turned to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve -- even contractors -- to find pilots to fill shortages in the RPA workforce. In fact, drone-maker General Atomics is now flying surveillance (not strike) missions on contract for the service and plans to open a pilot training academy to help address the military workforce shortage.

Here's the full statement from the White House:

Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, also known as Hajji Mutazz, the second in command of the terrorist group ISIL, was killed in a U.S. military air strike on August 18 while traveling in a vehicle near Mosul, Iraq, along with an ISIL media operative known as Abu Abdullah.  Al-Hayali was an ISIL Shura Council member and, as the senior deputy to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was a primary coordinator for moving large amounts of weapons, explosives, vehicles, and people between Iraq and Syria.  He supported ISIL operations in both countries and was in charge of ISIL operations in Iraq, where he was instrumental in planning operations over the past two years, including the ISIL offensive in Mosul in June 2014.  He was a member of Al Qa’ida in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIL, and previously served as ISIL’s Baghdad military emir and the emir of Ninawa Province.  Al-Hayali’s death will adversely impact ISIL’s operations given that his influence spanned ISIL’s finance, media, operations, and logistics.  The United States and its coalition partners are determined to degrade and destroy this terrorist group which has wrought so much harm and suffering on the people of the region and beyond."
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