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U.S. use of drones rose sharply in Afghanistan during 2012

Published: Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 4:47 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010 file photo, a U.S. Predator drone flies over the moon above Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan. The number of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan jumped 72 percent in 2012, killing at least 16 civilians in a sharp increase from the previous year, the U.N. said Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 in a sign of the changing mission as international forces prepare to withdraw combat forces in less than two years. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File) (Associated Press) FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010 file photo, a U.S. Predator drone flies over the moon above Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan. The number of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan jumped 72 percent in 2012, killing at least 16 civilians in a sharp increase from the previous year, the U.N. said Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 in a sign of the changing mission as international forces prepare to withdraw combat forces in less than two years. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File) (Associated Press)

KABUL, Afghanistan — The number of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan rose sharply last year compared with 2011, the United Nations said Tuesday.

The increase was a sign that unmanned aircraft are taking a greater role as Americans try to streamline the fight against insurgents while preparing to withdraw combat forces in less than two years.

Drones have become a major source of contention between the U.S. and countries like Pakistan, where covert strikes on militant leaders have drawn condemnation and allegations of sovereignty infringements as family members and other bystanders are killed.

They have not been a prominent issue in Afghanistan, however. While drone attacks have occurred, they have largely been in support of ground troops during operations and have not been singled out by President Hamid Karzai's administration in its campaign against international airstrikes.

The top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, presents the annual U.N. report on civilian casualties at a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013. The number of Afghan civilians killed in U.S. and NATO airstrikes dropped by nearly half last year to 126, the U.N. said Tuesday. The report came a day after President Hamid Karzai banned government forces from requesting foreign air support during operations in residential areas. (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid) (Associated Press) The top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, presents the annual U.N. report on civilian casualties at a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013. The number of Afghan civilians killed in U.S. and NATO airstrikes dropped by nearly half last year to 126, the U.N. said Tuesday. The report came a day after President Hamid Karzai banned government forces from requesting foreign air support during operations in residential areas. (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid) (Associated Press)

The steep rise in the number of weapons fired from unmanned aerial aircraft — the formal term for drones — raises the possibility that may change as U.S. forces become more dependent on such attacks to fight al-Qaida and other insurgents.

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