U.S. and NATO combat operations in Afghanistan continue to be well
supported by an "air force" of less than a hundred aircraft. These support some
40,000 troops, usually with one B-1B bomber overhead most of the time, plus
several F-15s and F-16s carrying smart bombs. There are also Harrier and A-10
aircraft, and AH-64 Apaches helicopter for low altitude work. Equally useful
are about a dozen reconnaissance aircraft, particularly the P-3 and Nimrod
naval patrol aircraft, which have been modified to search over land areas.
These aircraft can stay in the air for ten hours, or more, per sortie. There
are never enough Predator or Global Hawk UAVs for this kind of "persistent"
recon, so the U.S. and British navies have sent in their patrol aircraft to
take up the slack. The manned aircraft typically run fewer than a hundred
sorties a day in the Winter, and sometimes twice as many when the weather is
warmer, and more bad guys are out and about.