Tankers critical to sustaining air campaign against ISIS

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  • By Staff Reports
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

(Editor’s note: Information contained within this article was provided by U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs to include statistics and a summary of operations conducted in May.)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Coalition tankers continue to sustain overlapping air campaigns against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters in Iraq and Syria, as well as operations in Afghanistan.

In May, the U.S.-led coalition released 4,374 weapons in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, representing the largest employment of ordnance in a single month since the operation’s inception in late 2014.

As of May 31, U.S. Air Forces Central Command-controlled tankers have flown 5,037 sorties, offloaded 312 million pounds of fuel and conducted 28,072 aircraft refuelings in support of OIR in 2017, according to AFCENT’s monthly airpower summary.

Furthermore, coalition tankers continue to enable Resolute Support Mission’s train, advise and assist mission-set, as well as Operation Freedom’s Sentinel’s kinetic and airlift operations in Afghanistan. In support of OFS and RSM, coalition tankers have flown 1,925 sorties, offloaded 60 million pounds of fuel and conducted 7,052 aircraft refuelings in 2017.     

KC-10 Extenders assigned to Travis Air Force Base serve as one of the primary aerial refueling platforms in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Operation Inherent Resolve – destroying ISIS in Iraq and Syria

Coalition airpower continued to play a decisive role in destroying ISIS’ fighting capacity and eroding its control over territory and people. In May, Coalition aircraft released nearly 4,400 weapons against a variety of ISIS targets, a 33 percent increase from April and the highest release month since the inception of OIR in August 2014. The preponderance of targets include ISIS fighting positions; tactical vehicles and heavy weaponry; oil infrastructure, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and related facilities; and structures serving as ISIS headquarters, safe houses, security and media centers. The increase in weapons released can be directly attributed to the accelerated pace of operations as ISIS is driven into increasingly smaller pockets by partner ground forces. The majority of weapons released were precision guided munitions delivered to support partner ground forces fighting to drive ISIS out of West Mosul and Raqqah.

Airpower was instrumental in targeting and destroying fighting positions and providing an around-the-clock protective umbrella of close air support for our Syrian Democratic Force partner ground forces throughout the fight for Tabqah and ISIS’ surrender there to them on May 11. Following the enemy’s surrender, the Coalition targeted retreating ISIS fighters in line with the revised counter ISIS strategy to annihilate the enemy in place so as to prevent them from carrying the fight to a later day.

Airstrikes also continued against ‘deep fight’ targets, including ISIS’ primary source of revenue - the illicit sale of oil. Throughout May, Coalition aircraft destroyed nearly 400 oil wellheads, tanker trucks and associated infrastructure.

In support of the fight to liberate West Mosul, Coalition aircraft delivered precision guided munitions achieving lethal effects against the enemy while mitigating impacts to civilians in surrounding areas. As Iraqi Security Forces have advanced through this challenging terrain, there remained a constant overhead presence of both armed aircraft and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms providing real-time visibility of battlefield targets and assessments. Within Syria, the SDF continued to advance and isolate Raqqah. Coalition air support provided instrumental support to the SDF, suppressing the enemy’s ability to retain their positions, and destroying ISIS headquarters, weapons and resources.

Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support Mission – advising Afghan Air Forces and countering terrorism

The Afghan Air Force showed considerable progress in their ability to become a professional, capable and sustainable Air Force. The AAF maintenance technicians completed their first-ever Afghan led Mi-17 helicopter 1,500 hour inspection, 15 days ahead of schedule with zero discrepancies noted on its first flight. Air liaison officers with the AAF also successfully executed the first pre-planned integration of conventional ground force movement with the Afghan National Army. Throughout the month, the 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron contributed to Operation Freedom Sentinel using their F-16 Fighting Falcons in both strike and show-of-force capabilities for joint terminal attack controllers supporting ground forces.