Los Angeles Times – The Air Force pilot carefully throttled the controls of a missile-firing MQ-1 Predator drone flying half a world away in northern Syria. Suddenly his headset crackled to life.
Militants firing from bombed-out buildings had ambushed a U.S.-backed militia on a rubble-strewn street in Raqqah, Islamic State’s self-declared capital and one of its last urban strongholds. The militia was pinned down and their commander wanted the drone to take out the gunmen.
The pilot studied the surveillance video streaming onto his screen. A captain, he instructed the staff sergeant at his side to set the drone’s target sights and powered up a Hellfire missile under its wing.
“Rifle,” the pilot said and the missile soared away.
“Splash,” he said seconds later as a fireball swelled across the screen.
The July 18 airstrike was delivered within 160 feet of the pinned-down troops from the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to Air Force officials. It thus marks an evolution in warfare.
U.S. drone pilots now routinely launch missiles at what the Pentagon calls “danger-close” distances to proxy ground forces fighting Islamic State in densely populated cities.
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