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WASHINGTON: US bombings in Pakistan dropped to a record low – three – in 2016, compared to more than 24,000 bombs it dropped in Iraq and Syria last year, says a study by a US think-tank, Council on Foreign Relations.

The statistics indicate a change in situation on the ground in Pakistan’s tribal areas, which US defence experts say are used for launching attacks at American and Afghan troops in Afghanistan.

In the past, a major terrorist attack on targets inside Afghanistan or the increase in terrorist activities inside Pakistan’s tribal areas led to US bombings inside Pakistan.

Since June 2014, when Pakistan launched a comprehensive military operation against terrorist hideouts in Fata, the terrorist attacks have decreased and as have US bombings.

The statistics also show that the United States has shifted its focus away from the Pak-Afghan region and is now targeting terrorist strongholds in Iraq and Syria. Most of the bombings conducted in 2016 sought to destroy the militant Islamic State group (IS) positions in these two countries.

The increase in bombings in these two countries also indicate the Obama administration’s determination to lessen US ground combat operations in foreign wars, except in Afghanistan where US troops still participate in combats.

The administration argues that ground operations not only put lives of Americans at stake but also stir anti-America feelings in those areas. The bombings, however, are more precise and are often carried out to help local authorities in their fight against the terrorists.

But the Council on Foreign Relations noted that the administration’s claim that bombing “reduces the threat posed by extremists operating from those countries and improves overall security and governance on the ground -- is highly contested”.

In President Barack Obama’s last year in office, the US dropped 26,171 bombs in seven countries. This estimate is undoubtedly low, considering reliable data is only available for airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and a single strike can involve multiple bombs or munitions. In 2016, the US dropped 3,027 more bombs -- and in one more country, Libya -- than in 2015.

Most bombs were dropped in Syria (12,192), followed closely by Iraq (12,095). During the period, the US dropped 1,337 bombs in Afghanistan, 496 in Libya, 34 in Yemen, 14 in Somalia and three in Pakistan.

The numbers are based on the total coalition airstrikes carried out in 2016 by the US in Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the counter-IS campaign.

The Pentagon publishes a running count of bombs dropped by the US and its partners (such as Britain), and the council found data for 2016 using OIR public strike releases.

Using this data, the council concluded that in 2016, the US conducted about 79 per cent (5,904) of the coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria, which together total 7,473. Of the total 30,743 bombs that the coalition dropped, the US dropped 24,287 (79pc).

To determine how many US bombs were dropped on Iraq and Syria, the council looked at the percentage of total OIR air strikes conducted in each country. They were nearly evenly split, with 49.8pc (or 2,941 air strikes) carried out in Iraq, and 50.2pc (2,963) in Syria. Therefore, the number of bombs dropped was also nearly the same in the two countries (12,095 in Iraq; 12,192 in Syria). The US conducted approximately 67pc airstrikes in Iraq in 2016, and 96pc in Syria.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2017