Movies such as Eye in the Sky underscore how drones and controversial targeted strikes against terrorists have become almost inseparable in the public’s mind. Sure, we call it a “drone war,” but in truth, the Pentagon’s shadowy counterterror air campaign doesn’t always end with a small, silent robot firing a missile.

Sometimes, the attacking plane is huge, loud and full of human beings. The very opposite of a drone.

In December 2013, AC-130H Spectre gunships from the U.S. Air Force’s 16th Special Operations Squadron returned from their last operational deployment. During their time in Afghanistan that year, the heavily-armed planes — cargo-haulers modified to carry side-firing guns and cannons — broke up Taliban ambushes, attacked insurgent camps and provided cover for American and allied troops.

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