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After U.S. Troops Leave, Armed Drones Will Patrol Afghanistan’s Skies

One of the major elements of Afghanistan’s air war will remain after most U.S. troops have headed home, the U.S. military command confirmed today. Armed drones, operated by the U.S., will remain over Afghanistan after 2014.

“I come back to the remotely piloted aircraft,” Air Force Maj. Gen. H.D. Polumbo, the commander of the U.S./NATO air war over Afghanistan, told reporters at the Pentagon today. “They can collect intelligence, but they also are armed. And they’re armed to be able to provide force protection to our coalition forces and then when our coalition ground force commanders, when they deem it appropriate, they can control that air-delivered munition capability from the RPAs to be put in support of the Afghans.”

The drones will not be the only air support available to the Afghan army after 2014, when most U.S. forces are slated to leave Afghanistan. But only “some fixed wing” manned fighters and bombers will remain on the battlefield, Polumbo said. Navy jets flown off of nearby aircraft carriers and Air Force planes flown from Gulf airbases will supplement them when the Afghans’ small supply of Mi-17 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, and their forthcoming Super Tucano planes, are overwhelmed.

And the drones will remain. “You’ll have that hybrid ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] as I call it, that armed ISR, remotely piloted aircraft capability all the way through ’14,” Polumbo said, “and then once [the follow-on Operation] Resolute Support mission and operations is fully understood and agreed upon by our coalition partners and our leadership, you will likely see it into 2015 to provide force protection.”

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