The United States launched 59 attacks from remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in Afghanistan in December, according to new Air Force statistics.
December’s figures brought the total number of 2012 strikes in the Middle Eastern country up to 506, but represented a sharp decline from November, when 114 strikes were launched.
The 506 strikes represent a four-year high in Afghanistan. There were 257 RPA strikes in 2009, 279 in 2010 and 294 in 2011.
In 2012, Air Force RPAs averaged about 1.4 remote-controlled strikes per day in theater, reflecting the continued commitment by the Obama administration to use remotely piloted aircraft in battle. As RPA use has increased, the average number of manned flights in which weapons were used dropped from 165 a month in 2011 to 127 a month in 2012.
The numbers were released Jan. 6 as part of the monthly Combined Forces Air Component Commander airpower statistics. Data on the number of RPA strikes were included in the monthly report for the first time in October. The statistics include only strikes in Afghanistan because the Air Force is no longer actively supporting activities in Iraq.
Statistics released by the Air Force only cover military strikes, not CIA-launched attacks in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen. Though controversial, those actions have been strongly defended by Obama administration officials, including John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee for CIA director. In an April speech, Brennan called the CIA use of drones “legal, ethical and wise.”