An annual report on armed conflict in Afghanistan released this week by the United Nations claims that drone operations in the country expanded significantly last year. The report says that unmanned vehicles released 506 weapons in 2012, up from 294 in 2011 — a 72 percent increase. The news comes on the heels of President Obama's State of the Union speech, in which he announced that 34,000 additional US troops would be brought home from the country, and that "by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over." Fewer troops abroad, however, doesn't necessarily mean an end to US military actions abroad; the president's modernized defense strategy has emphasized cyber attacks and covert drone wars in the Middle East and Asia.
The report, which focuses on civilian casualties, says that drones were not a significant contributor to civilian casualties. Drone attacks in Afghanistan are said to have resulted in 16 civilian deaths and three injuries in 2012, up from just one documented incident in 2011. Some of those attacks were the result of "targeting errors," including one strike that killed four children who were several kilometers away from a battle between insurgents and pro-government forces.The UN says that a review of "tactical and operational policy relating to targeting" may be "of particular relevance" as the use of drones in Afghanistan increases.