January 24, 2012: Perhaps fittingly, December 2011 saw the fewest ground attacks by aircraft (133) in Afghanistan ever. Still, there were 1,675 such attacks in 2011, which was seven percent less than in each of the previous three years. Overall ground support sorties in Afghanistan grew from 20,359 in 2008 to 27,800 in 2009 and 33,600 per year for 2010 and 2011. In contrast, one of the peak years in Iraq (2008) saw 18,422 sorties, with 533 of them resulting in the use of weapons. Weapons released also varied. In Afghanistan in 2011 there were 4,896 bombs, missiles, or bursts of cannon fire. There were 5,101 in 2010, 4,163 in 2009, and 5,215 in 2008. In 2008 there were 1,075 weapons released by American warplanes in Iraq. In Afghanistan there were also 116,000 additional military sorties, about a third of them reconnaissance and most of the rest airlift. This did not count medical evacuation, which represented about six percent of those non-combat sorties.
In all, Afghanistan saw some 150,000 aircraft and helicopter sorties in support of combat operations last year. That was an increase of more than 50 percent from 2008. Most of the increase went to airlift, especially resupplying hundreds of small outposts in remote areas. These outposts made life very difficult for the Taliban and drug gangs, who had to be careful moving near these bases and devote thousands of gunmen to keep an eye on them.
Meanwhile, the Taliban use of human shields led to a reduction in the use of air attacks. At the same time, the Taliban were more frequently avoiding contact with foreign troops. This was often fatal for the Taliban gunmen, whether or not aircraft were involved.