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Spy Planes Being Shifted to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON - The U.S. military has sent more spy planes to Afghanistan and moved others there from Iraq, reflecting President Obama's emphasis on Afghanistan and the difficult fight there.

In July 2008, 75% of spy planes, including drones such as Predators and Reapers, were devoted to Iraq and 25% to Afghanistan, according to Pentagon figures. As of this month, 66% are in Afghanistan compared with 33% in Iraq.

Spy planes provide video of insurgent movements and intercept their communications. They also can show how soil has been disturbed, an indication that makeshift bombs have been buried. Besides drones, several other aircraft perform reconnaissance missions, including high-flying U-2 planes and new, twin-engine propeller-driven aircraft called Project Liberty planes.

"It's very clear from these reconnaissance numbers that the war effort has shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute, a think tank.

Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said the shift reflects decisions made by Army Gen. David Petraeus, who leads U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The overall number of spy planes has increased in Iraq and Afghanistan, allowing for a slight decrease in the number of Iraq flights and an expansion in Afghanistan, Army Col. Erik Gunhus, a spokesman for Petraeus, said Sunday. The Air Force conducts 36 patrols daily with armed Predator and Reaper drones in Afghanistan and Iraq - up from 27 last year.

Gunhus said the increase in violence in Afghanistan, where roadside bomb attacks are at record levels, requires more spy planes. Meanwhile, attacks in Iraq have dropped to their lowest levels since 2003.

The change comes after complaints from Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and others that the war in Iraq had devoured resources, such as spy planes, that are needed to fight Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press that security in Afghanistan "is pretty bad right now and getting worse" and the Taliban "has grown to be much more sophisticated."

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