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UAV strikes have increased annually since 2009

Nov. 10, 2012 - 09:42AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 10, 2012 - 09:42AM  |  
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The number of UAV attacks in Afghanistan has increased every year under the Obama administration, according to data released by the Air Force on Nov. 7.

The statistics represent the first time the Air Force has provided annual breakdowns on the number of strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles inside Afghanistan, after years of rebuffing requests for the information.

Air Force UAVs average more than one strike per day in Afghanistan, and are on pace to have more 2012 strikes in that country than the U.S. has launched against Pakistan over the past decade.

Since the start of 2009, there have been 1,160 strikes in Afghanistan. There were 255 strikes in 2009, 278 in 2010, 294 in 2011 and 333 through Oct. 31.

"The numbers are yet another powerful data point illustrating the fact that unmanned systems are here and they are here to stay," said Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

The data were released as part of the monthly Combined Forces Air Component Commander statistics. Those releases traditionally include the amount of cargo flown on airlift missions, but have not included UAV strikes.

"The release of this information is not tied with any specific event or timeline," wrote Air Forces Central spokeswoman Capt. Kim Bender in an email, in response to questions as to why the data were being released. The Air Force, she wrote, merely decided to provide more information on UAV use in Afghanistan. Bender said that the data will be updated monthly.

The statistics include only strikes in Afghanistan because the Air Force is no longer actively supporting activities in Iraq.

As UAV use has increased, the average number of manned flights in which weapons were used has dropped, from 165 a month in 2011 to 139 a month this year.

Since taking office in January 2009, President Obama has embraced the use of UAVs and expanded their operations globally.

Singer, who reported similar numbers of strikes last month, said it is important to differentiate between UAV use on the battlefield, such as the operations tallied by the Air Force, and what he called "not so covert" operations — targeted attacks on militants around the globe. Those operations have become a source of criticism internationally, especially in Pakistan, where civilian casualties have been an ongoing result of the attacks.

Singer cites numbers by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to estimate that there have been 350 targeted strikes in Pakistan and "roughly 50" in Yemen. Those strikes are coordinated by the CIA, not the Air Force.

The New America Foundation estimates that 15 percent of Pakistanis killed in UAV strikes were not militants, although the foundation believes those estimates have dropped to roughly between 1 percent and 2 percent for 2012.

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