Washington, Feb 20(ANI): With the US and allied forces flying at least 20 Predator drones, twice as many as a year ago, over vast stretches of the Afghan territory each day, it has become the NATO's most versatile tool on the Afghan battlefield.
Drones are mostly used for surveillance, but have also carried out more than 200 missile and bomb strikes over the last year, including 14 strikes near Marja, Taliban stronghold in Southern Afghanistan over the last few days.
According to military records, since the start of 2009, Predators and Reapers have fired at least 184 missiles and 66 laser-guided bombs on militant suspects in Afghanistan.
That is three times as many strikes in the past year as in Pakistan, where the drones have gotten far more attention and proved more controversial for their use in a country where the US does not have combat forces.
Afghanistan is a country with nearly 70,000 American troops, and the drones have settled into an everyday role. Military commanders say they are a growing part of a counter-insurgency strategy that seeks to reduce civilian casualties.
The drones can linger over an area with their video cameras gathering intelligence for as long as 20 hours, and then strike without warning.
As the flights increase, the military is also finding that the drones can offer continuous protection and a broad view of their surroundings that the Army and the Marines have long said they needed.
"The power behind it is more about the video downlink and the huge ability to bring information into the system," The New York Times quoted Major General Stephen P. Mueller, top commander of the US Air Force in Afghanistan, as saying.
"Given Afghanistan's mountainous terrain, having that steady bird's eye view means that our ground forces can get out and about amongst the population and into smaller units than you would typically think about," he added. (ANI)