WASHINGTON — U.S. commanders in Iraq have ordered an unprecedented number of airstrikes by unmanned airplanes in April to kill insurgents in urban combat and to limit their ability to launch rockets at U.S. forces, USA Today reported Tuesday, citing military records.

The 11 attacks by Predators — nearly double the previous high for one month — were conducted as the Pentagon has intensified efforts to increase the use of drones, which play an increasingly vital role for gathering intelligence and launching attacks in Iraq, the paper reported. Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates prodded the Air Force to do more to rush drones to the war zone.

Commanders are expected to rely more on unmanned systems as they begin to withdraw 30,000 U.S. troops sent last year, USA Today reported. The military has dozens of Predators in Iraq and Afghanistan. In all, it operates 5,000 drones, 25 times more than it had in 2001.

Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Murray, who directs the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance division at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in southwest Asia, declined to offer the specific number of flights over Iraq, the paper noted. However, USA Today wrote, the Pentagon said recently that it operated 24 round-the-clock Predator patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan. Less than a year ago, it had eight such patrols.

A review of the Air Force’s daily summary of activity in Iraq show more than 12 Predator strikes since March 28, the paper noted. The previous monthly high for drone attacks was six in November 2006 and July 2007, Air Force data show.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now