UAV use against enemy spikes in Iraq
U.S. commanders in Iraq have ordered an unprecedented number of airstrikes by unmanned airplanes in April to kill insurgents in urban combat and to limit their ability to launch rockets at American forces, military records show.The Predator has revolutionize air warfare by giving the air force the kind of persistent presence that troops on the street provide. They are especially effective against those targeting the Green Zone because there are only a limited number of places where they can use their indirect fire weapons. By persisting in those areas, the Predator can bring Hellfire down on the weapon crews before they can get away. Ambiguity as to time of attack is no longer an asset to the enemy and he no longer has ambiguity as to place.
The 11 attacks by Predators — nearly double the previous high for one month — were conducted as the Pentagon has intensified efforts to increase the use of drones, which play an increasingly vital role for gathering intelligence and launching attacks in Iraq. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates prodded the Air Force to do more to rush drones to the war zone.
The increase in Predator attacks coincided with a spike in fighting in Baghdad's slum of Sadr City and in the city of Basra, where the Iraqi government mounted an offensive to root out militias there.
Commanders are expected to rely more on unmanned systems as 30,000 U.S. troops sent last year are withdrawn. The military has dozens of Predators in Iraq and Afghanistan. In all it operates 5,000 drones, 25 times more than it had in 2001.
Since July, Predator missions have more than doubled in Iraq, said Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Murray, who directs the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance division at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in southwest Asia. He declined to offer a specific number of flights over Iraq. However, the Pentagon said recently that it operated 24 round-the-clock Predator patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan. Less than a year ago, it had eight such patrols.
A key Predator target: insurgents firing rockets and mortars from nearby neighborhoods into Baghdad's Green Zone, the seat of Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy. On Monday, four U.S. troops were killed by rocket or mortar fire in Baghdad.
The planes, which can stay aloft for several hours, allow them to "stare" at areas where insurgent activity is expected, Murray said.
"Predator proves the value of persistence," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute. "It's like having your own personal satellite over your target."
The increase use is also a direct result of Sec. Gates leadership in getting the Air Force to increase the number of crews available to fight this part of the war.