The second year of Operation Inherent Resolve opened with a bang — literally.

Once Turkey gave the U.S. permission in late July to use its air bases for combat missions against the Islamic State group, the 510th Fighter Squadron, 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano Air Base, Italy, and U.S. Air Forces in Europe managed — in the words of a top commander in the fight — to pull a "complete rabbit-out-of-the-hat lift."

On Aug. 9, six F-16s from Aviano deployed to Incirlik Air Base. On Aug. 12, the F-16s flew their first combat missions against the Islamic State group.

"The 510th Fighter Squadron got a phone call and said, 'We need six fighters, an entire maintenance package.' And the logistics [airmen] and maintainers went from zero, packed up, got onboard KC-10s, loaded the planes and took off in a matter of days, landed at Incirlik, reconfigured and were ready to go in a few days," Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, told Air Force Times. "[That] is a tribute to the airmen, the logisticians, the pilots, the maintainers and everybody at Aviano Air Base that brought that tremendous capability to bear."

Turkey has proven to be a "fantastic strategic location to fly from" to support operations against the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, chief of staff, Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said during an Aug. 21 briefing.

"The longer time on station, the ability for turnaround times — back into Incirlik and then back into the theater of operations — is an obvious advantage," Killea said. "Not the least of which, we have armed RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] out of Incirlik now, so that brings another punch to the fight.

"And the fact that we have airborne refueling tankers out of Incirlik so they can stay on their refueling tracks longer. That is a huge boost. Anyone who flies fighters knows that if there is gas airborne, you're happy because you can stay on station longer."

Gersten agreed. "We can get out of Incirlik to the combat area in roughly 20 minutes; where, typically, we are averaging somewhere around 21/2 to 31/2 hours to get to the combat area," Gersten said. "If you can get from launch to target area in 20 minutes, you don't require a tanker."

U.S. and coalition aircraft are hammering Islamic State group targets in Iraq and Syria 24 hours a day, Gersten said. As if to prove his point, Gersten was briefly called away in the middle of his Air Force Times interview to discuss a strike mission.

"That's endemic of my day — and almost every member of the coalition's day," he said. "There's a rarely a night that I will sleep more than a couple of hours before the phone doesn't ring and an operation takes place. It is that sort of constant, persistent capability that the coalition brings to the battlespace to go after this enemy."

More than 13,000 airmen are deployed to the region. Despite the nonstop demand of combat operations, Gersten has not seen any cracks in U.S. service members' morale.

"I have yet to hear anybody complaining about this," he said. "They know how important it is. The whole world is watching the coalition and the coalition is fighting for the whole world."

There is progress

As of Aug. 21, the Air Force had dropped 67 percent of the 22,863 coalition weapons released in the first year of Operation Inherent Resolve. The strikes have killed more than 15,000 fighters, according to Airwars, an independent group tracking the airstrikes. The operation has cost $3.21 billion, or about $9.4 million per day.

Pentagon and intelligence officials admit the Islamic State group's ability to recruit has largely offset those casualties, with the number of enemy group fighters today totaling between 20,000 and 31,500, the same as when the operation kicked off.

Those numbers aside, the Pentagon emphasizes, the Islamic State group is no longer largely on the offensive, and is instead looking to hold the ground it has.

"They are much more territorial, meaning they're defending more than they're on the offensive," Killea said July 31. "Their attacks are smaller, they are more focused, and they're less enduring."

On Aug. 18, a U.S. military airstrike killed the terrorist group's second in command, according to the National Security Council.

Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, also known as Hajji Mutazz, was killed when his vehicle was destroyed near Mosul, NSC spokesman Ned Price said in an Aug. 21 statement. He was in charge of coordinating the movement of weapons, explosives, vehicles and people between Iraq and Syria.

"He supported ISIL [Islamic State] operations in both countries and was in charge of ISIL operations in Iraq, where he was instrumental in planning operations over the past two years, including the ISIL offensive in Mosul in June 2014," Price said in the statement. "Al-Hayali's death will adversely impact ISIL's operations given that his influence spanned ISIL's finance, media, operations, and logistics."

Every airman counts

Since combat operations against the Islamic State group began last year, the coalition has flown more than 14,000 tanker sorties, Gersten said.

"The tankers have been a key, key part of this entire campaign," Gersten said. "We're running about 32 coalition tanker sorties a day. I flew down to where the tankers are located and as I did my approach into the airfield I was — as an airman — absolutely blown away at the magnitude of tankers on that ramp. It is its own global power."

Maintainers, logisticians and other airmen are under constant pressure to keep fighters, tankers and surveillance aircraft flying, while pilots are expected to be "100 percent precise" and not cause any collateral damage or civilian casualties, Gersten said.

"The precision required in these operations has a stress all of its own," Gersten said.

25 years of war

In the 25 years since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the Air Force has never seen a day of peace.

"The Air Force has fewer airmen than at any time in our history," Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, said in the command's 2015 strategy document. "At the same time, we've seen little reduction in our operational tempo or in the demand for our capabilities."

The Air Force's fleet of aircraft is the oldest it has been since the service became independent in 1947. Gersten praised U.S. and coalition maintainers for ensuring that older aircraft are combat capable.

"They are working very hard, and we did intend to have a recapitalization period with our fleet management," Gersten said. "We have not been afforded that opportunity."

Despite the aging fleet, airmen are able to consistently put warheads on foreheads.

In one instance, airmen discovered the location of an Islamic State command and control center by monitoring what terrorists say online, Carlisle said June 1.

"The [airmen are] combing through social media and they see some moron standing at this command," Carlisle said. "And in some social media, open forum, bragging about command and control capabilities for Da'esh, ISIL, And these guys go, 'Ah, we got an in.'

"So they do some work, long story short, about 22 hours later through that very building, three JDAMS [Joint Direct Attack Munitions] take that entire building out. Through social media. It was a post on social media. Bombs on target in 22 hours."

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