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)
On November 24, a US General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper combat drone was spotted over the northwestern Syrian region of Greater Idlib.
The drone was conducting an armed reconnaissance mission over the town of Ma’arrat Misrin in the eastern Idlib countryside.
The MQ-9 was armed with what appears to be four GBU-58 Paveway II laser-guided bombs. 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 drones have been conducting patrols over Greater Idlib for the last few months. Under the rule of al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the region became in the recent years the largest safe haven for terrorist groups and wanted terrorists in the Middle East.
The drone spotted over Ma’arrat Misrin was likely looking for a wanted terrorist. In September, a US drone strike targeted Horas al-Din senior leader Salim Abu-Ahmad near the town.