For the second year in a row the number of American UAV missile attacks in Pakistan has declined. There were 47 attacks last year, 72 in 2011, and 122 in 2010 (the peak year). Last year most of these attacks were in North (mostly) and South Waziristan. There are still plenty of terrorist targets in Pakistan but for diplomatic reasons the U.S. is limiting the use of UAV missile attacks there. These CIA controlled UAVs continue to patrol over Pakistan, collecting information on terrorist activities.
Pakistan has always officially demanded that the United States halt the use of CIA UAVs to attack Islamic terrorists in the Pakistani tribal territories along the Afghan border. The U.S. has consistently refused and threatened Pakistan with massive retaliation if the UAV operations were interfered with. Last year Pakistan offered a compromise. If the Americans would tell Pakistan where U.S. intelligence had located terrorists, Pakistan would send one of its F-16s and use a smart bomb to do the deed. The U.S. turned this down for several reasons, the main one being that the Pakistanis would "miss" (or simply not be able to find) terrorists who were working for the Pakistani Army. The Pakistanis could also sell protection (from air attacks) to Islamic terrorists. Some terrorists would still die because Pakistan has always been content to see the Americans kill Islamic terrorists who were hostile to Pakistan. Terrorists who confined their attacks to targets in Afghanistan or India were another matter and the Pakistani government continues to protect these groups any way it can, while denying it is doing so. From over a decade of experience the Americans know the Pakistani military cannot be trusted but the Pakistanis deny this and demand more of whatever they can get.
Meanwhile, as American UAV missile attacks in Pakistan have declined, they have increased next door in Afghanistan (where there were over 340 similar attacks in the last year). The UAV attacks in Afghanistan are up a third compared to last year, while manned combat sorties in Afghanistan involving the use of weapons are down 16 percent. The reason for this is a shift in economy and utility. The UAVs, which are remotely controlled by operators in the United States, are much cheaper to operate. Moreover, a UAV can stay in the air much longer without expensive air-to-air refueling. Crew fatigue is not a problem either because the two (or three) person teams (a pilot and one or more observers) can be easily relieved as they are working from buildings in an air force base in the United States. But the big reason for the greater use of UAVs in Afghanistan is that, after 2014, there will only be 10,000 (or less) American troops left in Afghanistan and there will be few, if any, manned warplanes. But there will be plenty of UAVs, with most of the large ones operated by crews working from airbases back in the United States. Only support personnel will be in Afghanistan. That gives you a lot more air time for each airman you have in Afghanistan. In an emergency, the U.S. can still fly in fighter-bombers from Persian Gulf bases or heavy bombers from Diego-Garcia in the Indian Ocean. There are always aircraft carriers that can operate off the Pakistani coast. But most of the day-to-day reconnaissance and air strikes can be handled by the UAVs. These large, armed, UAVs can stay in the air for up to 24 hours per sortie.
North Waziristan is a notorious terrorist sanctuary that Pakistan refuses to shut down and that accounts for nearly all the UAV attacks (that kill a lot of terrorists even the Pakistani government wants dead). Despite the UAV attacks, there are more Islamic terrorists per square kilometer in that small area than anywhere else on the planet. While all American air attacks in Pakistan are via UAV, in Afghanistan they are only nine percent of attacks. That’s up from 5-6 percent in each of the previous three years. Robots may not be taking over but remotely controlled aircraft, equipped with sensors that let you see what kinds of weapons people are carrying and details of their faces, are.
There are more UAVs being delivered and sent into action in Afghanistan. The U.S. Air Force also gets to save a lot of money by pulling combat aircraft out of Afghanistan and replacing them with UAVs. As much as the air force, which is run by former combat pilots, wants to keep pilots employed, shrinking budgets make UAVs an option that cannot be ignored. While the CIA is increasing the size of its UAV fleet, it also sends its UAVs off to wherever the terrorists are. These days that’s more likely to be places like Yemen, Syria, or Mali.
The air force likes to point out that likely future wars, in the West Pacific, will be too hostile for UAVs like Predator and Reaper. But those are potential wars, while the numerous operations against Islamic terrorists are still going on. These conflicts are easily defeated using these UAVs for surveillance and attacks.