With the United States shifting to a new Afghanistan war strategy that’s more heavily focused on counterterrorism, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the service will adjust to best support that mission.

In a Thursday interview in her Pentagon office with Air Force Times and Defense News, Wilson said it still remains to be seen what the Joint Chiefs of Staff will need from the Air Force. But she noted that battlefield airmen such as joint tactical air controllers, working with ground forces to call in air support, have been a key part of the Air Force’s counterterrorism efforts in the past.

Wilson would not rule out sending more JTACs into Afghanistan or flying more close-air support missions, saying that will depend on the Joint Staff’s request.

“The new strategy focuses very heavily on counterterrorism, and [the Islamic State] does have a strain in Afghanistan,” Wilson said. ”And there are about 20 terrorist-affiliated groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area. So it‘s an area of intense interest, from a counterterrorism point of view.”

Because the Air Force can quickly bring assets to bear in Afghanistan from surrounding nations in the Middle East ― or, in the case of long-range bombers, even flying them directly from the United States ― Wilson said that measuring the service’s presence by how many airmen are stationed at Afghanistan air bases is the wrong way to look at it. Instead, she prefers to focus on the mission and capabilities being used there.

However, the Air Force is stationing more tankers in Afghanistan to use them more efficiently, Wilson said. Forward-deploying tankers in Afghanistan, rather than elsewhere in Central Command, saves about 50,000 gallons of fuel every day, which means each tanker can refuel about six more jets on each sortie.

That’s particularly important, Wilson said, because the Air Force flies about 65 tanker sorties a day in the Afghanistan and Persian Gulf region. Fighters waging war against ISIS typically refuel about four or five times during each mission, she said.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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