Airmen and F16s with the 555th Fighter Squadron out of Aviano Air Base, Italy, the "Triple Nickel," have deployed to Afghanistan's Bagram Airfield, according to a U.S. Air Forces Central Command news release.
The 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron is replacing the 79th EFS out of Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, which just concluded a six-month deployment for the ongoing train, advise and assist mission.
"Since its inception in 1942, the Triple Nickel has been vital in multiple conflicts and will add to its proud combat heritage during this deployment," said Lt. Col. David Seitz, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group deputy commander. "They have provided combat capabilities from Bagram Airfield for years, and will continue to deliver decisive airpower once again during their time here."
The use of air power in Afghanistan has grown over the past year since President Obama approved an expansion of U.S. airstrikes against the Taliban in June.
Prior to that, while U.S. and NATO forces were free to launch attacks on al-Qaida, Islamic State and several other terrorist groups in Afghanistan, they could only attack Taliban forces if they were directly attacking coalition forces, especially Afghan army troops, or could be directly tied to previous attacks on friendly forces. That's because the U.S. government, in 2015, defined the group as an "armed insurgency," not a terrorist group.
The change in policy paved the way for aircraft like the F-16 and MQ-1 Predator to launch more attacks against the militants.
Meanwhile, the Afghan Air Force took ownership of four more A-29 Super Tucanos on March 20, increasing its A-29 inventory from eight to 12 aircraft in country. More of the light-attack aircraft are expected in the future as Resolute Support continues to assist the Afghan government in its four-year effort to increase its fighting capabilities.
Mackenzie Wolf is an editorial intern for Military Times.