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Aviano F-16s deploy to Afghanistan

F-16s from Aviano Air Base, Italy, have deployed to Afghanistan to provide close-air support for Afghan and remaining U.S. units in the country.

The airmen and F-16s assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron landed April 27 at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, to provide support for operations Freedom's Sentinel and Resolute Support. The unit will remain for six months, Aviano said in a news release.

"First and foremost, we're here to protect the guys on the ground," said Lt. Col. Byron Pompa, commander of the 555th Fighter Squadron. "Our guys couldn't be happier to be here. We've prepared for the last six months to a year for this moment, and our young guys are chomping at the bit to get in there and see some action."

The squadron is taking over for F-16s from the 4th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

The unit arrivesd as U.S. aircraft have been flying fewer missions in Afghanistan, and other aircraft have been increasing airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. In March, aircraft conducted 52 airstrikes for a total of 128 this year. Aircraft conducted 2,363 airstrikes in all of 2014, down from a high of 5,411 in 2011.

Meanwhile, other aircraft have been increasing airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. In March, the same month, U.S. and coalition aircraft conducted 1,600 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

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