This is great news. Task Force ODIN was amazingly successful in Iraq (2400 bombers killed, 141 captured), and I hope to see good things with Task Force ODIN-A in Afghanistan. –Head Jundi
U.S. to Expand Drone Use, Other Surveillance in Afghanistan
By YOCHI J. DREAZEN
SEPTEMBER 18, 2008
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is preparing to deploy a network of drones and other surveillance aircraft to Afghanistan in an expanding effort to defeat the resurgent Taliban and reverse a downward spiral in the country.
The effort, known as Task Force ODIN-A, is set to begin early next year and will coincide with the planned deployments of thousands of American troop reinforcements to Afghanistan, senior U.S. military officials said.
The officials said drones — remotely piloted aircraft — and manned surveillance aircraft will be deployed to identify insurgent targets inside Afghanistan, including on the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan. The military will use the information to launch airstrikes and ground attacks on militants.
The Army has used drones and piloted planes, including a modified version of the C-12 similar to this one, for reconnaissance in Iraq.
Drones are already used widely in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the new aircraft should significantly boost the Army’s ability to track insurgents and quickly funnel usable intelligence to individual units, officials said.
The initiative comes as Afghanistan’s security situation continues to deteriorate. Gen. David McKiernan, the top American commander there, said this week that insurgent attacks in the country have increased 30% from last year. The number of U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan in 2008, at 122, has already exceeded the 117 fatalities in 2007.
Gen. McKiernan and other senior commanders said Pakistan has failed to crack down on militants operating in its border regions, allowing the insurgents to create safe havens where they can train recruits and plan attacks inside Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence officials believe high-ranking al Qaeda figures, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, are hiding in remote parts of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s military said Tuesday its soldiers had orders to fire at any American troops raiding across the border. Pakistani officials were responding to a U.S. cross-border commando raid on Sept. 3, and to revelations the Bush administration had cleared the way for U.S. forces to strike targets in Pakistan without first alerting Islamabad and had authorized an increase in the number of U.S. missile strikes on targets inside Pakistan.
On Wednesday, the top American military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, visited Pakistan to reassure the nation’s leaders that the U.S. respects its sovereignty.
Predator drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Special Operations Command have been firing missiles at targets inside Pakistan almost daily for the past several weeks, killing dozens of Pakistanis, according to Pakistani officials. On Wednesday, a U.S. missile hit a suspected Taliban ammunition depot in South Waziristan, killing five people, Pakistani officials said.
Pakistani security officials said the U.S. gave them advance notice of Wednesday’s missile strike. A senior Pakistani official said as a result of the meetings with Adm. Mullen, Pakistan didn’t expect more U.S. cross-border raids. A U.S. official disputed that account but said Adm. Mullen is “well aware of Pakistani sensitivities” about raids and missile strikes.
The drones that will be deployed to Afghanistan are unlikely to carry missiles or other weaponry, the senior U.S. officials said. They are designed to give lower-ranking Army commanders access to the real-time surveillance feeds that are usually reserved for senior officers.
The initiative is modeled on an effort in Iraq, where the Army last year began flying drones and piloted planes, including a modified version of the C-12, a small civilian plane, for surveillance and reconnaissance purposes.
In Iraq, the Army aircraft fed data on insurgent positions to Apache attack helicopters and ground forces. U.S. commanders said the effort has contributed to the deaths of more than 3,000 suspected insurgents.
The expansion of the program into Afghanistan hasn’t been formally announced, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates alluded to the plan during a congressional hearing last week. Mr. Gates told lawmakers from the House Armed Services Committee that he was going to “re-create” the Iraq effort and “replicate it in Afghanistan with additional assets.”
In Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, Mr. Gates expressed “personal regret” for recent U.S. airstrikes that killed Afghan civilians and pledged more accurate targeting in the future, the Associated Press reported.
Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, an Army spokesman, said Task Force ODIN-A would begin operating in Afghanistan next year but declined to be more specific. The name is an acronym for “Observe, Detect, Identify and Neutralize.”
Last week, the Bush administration announced plans to send 4,500 more troops to Afghanistan by early next year.
Gen. McKiernan said this week he will need an additional three combat brigades, or 10,500 to 14,000 personnel, on top of the extra troops bound for the country. There are 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
—Zahid Hussain contributed to this article.
Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at email@example.com