In a major strategy shift, the U.S. military is moving away from hunting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan with Predator drones and has instead begun using the unmanned aircraft to battle the Taliban and other militants destabilizing the country, according to a published report.
The change comes after military leaders concluded their efforts were too focused on tracking down Al Qaeda targets, rather than strengthening Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. But officials said defeating the terror group still remains top priority, the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday.
"We have been overly counter-terrorism-focused and not counter-insurgency-focused," the Times quoted a U.S. official as saying. "We might still be too focused on Bin Laden ... We should probably reassess our priorities," the person said.
Officials told the paper that a preliminary review of the use of drones has found that the Afghan command requires up to four times as many of the aircraft and has reassigned eight Predators previously used by special operations forces.
These reassigned drones will be used to focus on major terror strongholds, rather than searching through difficult mountainous terrain for suspected fighters. Officials believe several mid-level Al Qaeda leaders remain in the country after Bin Laden planned the Sept. 11 attacks there.
Additionally, U.S. military Central Command plans to send a dozen more drones to Afghanistan, including some currently used in Iraq, representing a 25% increase in the fleet.
The aircraft redeployment means Afghan insurgents that have launched deadly attacks against the U.S. will for the first time be hunted down by "dozens of drones capable of remaining over a target for hours undetected, identifying key individuals, and firing missiles within a matter of seconds," the Times reported.