The US Air Force is literally and figuratively doing the heavy lifting in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State in northern Iraq, performing aerial refuelling and humanitarian airlift duties on a daily basis since June.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said on 15 September that the service is carrying out the “lion’s share” of air strikes in the region, in co-operation with Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets flying from the USS George HW Bushaircraft carrier, stationed in the Mediterranean.
The USAF's McDonnell Douglas KC-10 in-flight refuelling tankers have been performing around 30 aerial refuelling sorties per day since the intervention began in June, James says. US forces have launched more than 100 strikes against Islamic State targets so far, at an average cost of $7 million per day, according to a Pentagon spokesman.
The service is also providing situational awareness for US forces and allied fighters on the ground in northern Iraq with airborne and space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, James adds.
USAF personnel have also launched targeted strikes against Islamic State militants and equipment near the contested Mosul Dam.
“Airmen and ISR will be equally important, as the mission to cut [the Islamic State’s] network grows,” James says.
Several aircraft are leading the humanitarian effort to relieve civilians in Iraq. Lockheed Martin C-130s and Boeing C-17s have dropped thousands of gallons of water and tons of food in the region. Air force mobility aircraft have flown multiple sorties in aid of thousands of civilians stuck in the Islamic State’s path, enabling the evacuation of 20,000 Yazidi minorities stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq.
“Our mobility forces will likely be called on again in the future,” James adds.