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US drones could remain over Afghanistan after 2014 withdrawal

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Drone and solider (Credit: Airman 1st Class Jason Epley/USAF)
Drone and solider (Credit: Airman 1st Class Jason Epley/USAF)

The US military is due to pull most combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But after that, an armed American presence could remain over Afghan skies, depending on what agreement for continuing operations is reached between the US and Afghanistan. Air Force Major General H.D. Polumbo, Jr, told reporters at the Pentagon today that drones, including armed unmanned aerial vehicles operated by the US, will likely continue to be used to support the Afghan army's operations through 2014 and probably on into 2015. “You’ll have that hybrid ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] as I call it, that armed ISR, remotely piloted aircraft capability all the way through ’14," Polumbo is quoted by Danger Room, later adding "you will likely see it into 2015 to provide force protection."

Polumbo didn't specify how many drones would be available for this post-Afghanistan war phase, nor which specific models would be used if approved. But the Air Force previously released statistics indicating that there were upwards of 400 drone strikes in Afghanistan in 2012 — nearly 11 percent of the total number of air strikes — and over 200 US drone strikes in the country each year from 2009 through 2011, as Danger Room reported. The military stopped publishing drone strike statistics for Afghanistan separately earlier this year, saying the report "disproportionately focused" on drone strikes and that strikes constituted only about three percent of overall drone flights, the rest reconnaissance or other types of missions. Still, with the Defense Department curbing spending on drones in its 2014 budget, any drones used for continuing operations will have to be those already on deck or in the pipeline.