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'Hunter-killer' drone hits Afghan target

After a few weeks of flying mere recon missions, the grimly named Reaper UAV gets to launch a Hellfire missile in earnest.

A Reaper lands at Creech AFB in March. U.S. Air Force photo

A next-generation unmanned aerial vehicle piloted from Nevada has fired a weapon in Afghanistan in its first-ever strike on enemy combatants.

The MQ-9 Reaper on Saturday launched a Hellfire missile in a location known as Deh Rawod. The strike, the Air Force reports with great understatement, was successful.

A bigger, more heavily armed follow-on to the Predator UAV, the Reaper has been flying missions in Afghanistan since the last week of September. Until this weekend, however, it had been limited to its secondary role as a tool for surveillance and reconnaissance. With the missile-firing sortie, it has now lived up to its primary job description as a "persistent hunter-killer" that not only finds the bad guys, but takes them out.

The Air Force hasn't said how many Reapers are in Afghanistan, only that at the moment it has nine of the UAVs in its inventor. ("Reaper" is the Air Force's dark term of endearment for the aircraft; when it's flying peacetime missions, such as fighting wildfires, it's known as the Predator B.)

The Reapers fly their missions out of Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan. The pilot for the remote-controlled aircraft is thousands of miles away at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.