Three KC-135s and about 50 airmen from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England, and approximately 50 support airmen have deployed to Naval Station Rota, Spain, to continue supporting French operations in Mali and North Africa, according to an Air Force press release.
The Air Force has been supporting French operations in northern Mali and the region since 2013. As part of that effort, Stratotankers with the 351st Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron out of Mildenhall, supported by maintainers from the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, have been refueling French fighter jets and providing airlift support. U.S. Special Forces have at times also been involved in the U.S. effort, code named Operation Juniper Micron, to support French combat operations in Mali.
In 2012, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a militant group operating in the Sahara and sub-Saharan regions, and several splinter groups helped a semi-nomadic tribe, the Tuaregs, rebel against the democratically elected government and seize control of the northern part of Mali. The jihadists soon drove the separatist Tuaregs out of major towns in the north and declared a particularly virulent form of Sharia law. Under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council, several West African countries pledged thousands of troops to retake the north, but militant incursions farther south in Mali led to a call for French troops to get involved immediately in the former French colony.
The militants were ousted from their strongholds in the north, but several extremist groups, including al Mourabitoun, remain active in the area, and France has maintained a troop presence there.
Aircraft are routinely rotated around the theater in support of operations and exercises, and all changes are done in full coordination with host nations and support partners, according to an Air Force press release.