| GEO World|
| US drones to target Taliban in Afghan war|
| Updated at: 0355 PST, Friday, July 31, 2009|
WASHINGTON: The US military plans to use more drone aircraft to target Taliban militants in Afghanistan while focusing less on hunting down Al-Qaeda figures, report said on Thursday.
Although defeating the Al-Qaeda terror network remains an overriding goal for Washington, officials now believe the best way to pursue that objective is to ensure stability in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan instead of Al-Qaeda manhunts, the paper said, citing US government and Defense Department officials.
It was more important to prevent a slide towards violence and anarchy that could be exploited by Al-Qaeda, which used Afghanistan to stage its attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the officials said.
"We might still be too focused on Bin Laden," an official said. "We should probably reassess our priorities."
The shift in priorities for the drone fleet comes despite President Barack Obama's declaration that defeating and dismantling Al-Qaeda is the primary goal of his strategy for the Afghan war.
Eight drones that have been devoted to tracking Al-Qaeda in remote Afghan mountains will be transferred to the fight against insurgents, the paper said.
And the US Central Command plans to send about 12 more drones to the Afghan front, including some aircraft that have been assigned to Iraq -- a move resisted by US commanders there.
The drones are in high demand and the military faces difficult choices in deciding how best to deploy the aircraft which are in short supply.
The armed Predators and Reapers can loiter over targets for hours and are viewed as an invaluable resource for both intelligence and military operations.
The drones are also used to target Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Pakistan though the US government does not publicly discuss those operations.
The new commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has ordered an elaborate review of how the mission uses surveillance aircraft.
McChrystal favors using the drones in a more concentrated way instead of spreading the aircraft across the country so regional commands can use the plans for short periods each day.
The military also plans to increase the number of flights of U2 spy planes in Afghanistan and all of the Air Force's unmanned Global Hawks -- a much larger plane designed for surveillance -- will be shifted to Afghanistan, officials said.