The number of U.S. air strikes over Afghanistan increased dramatically in July, following the Obama administration's decision the month before to widen the air war in support of Afghan troops on the ground.
Strikes against Afghan targets hit a 2016 high this month, specifically between July 19 and 25, when more than 70 munitions were employed, Lt. Col. Chris Karns, spokesman for U.S. Air Forces Central, told Air Force Times on Friday. F-16s, MQ-9s and B-52s conducted most of the operations, Karns said.
“This was the first time the B-52 conducted missions in Afghanistan since arriving in theater in April. It proved its flexibility and precision during close-air support missions,” Karns said in an email. Prior to that, the Stratofortresses had been carrying out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State militants.
The U.S. conducts two missions in Afghanistan: a non-combat mission of training, advising and assisting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, and a counterterrorism mission to target the Taliban, the remnants of al-Qaida, the Islamic State group, and other terrorist groups in the region.
Last week, Air Force fighters, bombers and remotely piloted aircraft zeroed-in on ISIS targets and infrastructure, Karns said.
In January, President Obama gave American personnel in Afghanistan legal authority to strike the fledgling ISIS faction there under any circumstance. Then in June, Obama approved U.S. air strikes and combat support for the Afghan army’s offensive operations against the Taliban.
Before that U.S. and NATO airpower in Afghanistan had only been used to attack validated al-Qaida targets, to counter specific Taliban individuals or groups that had previously attacked coalition forces or to directly respond to such attacks.
Just one month into 2016, the U.S. had released almost 130 weapons in Afghanistan, the most since 2013, according to U.S. Air Forces Central Command statistics. Overall, Air Force
545 weapons released from January to June, compared to 298 weapons employed for the same period in 2015.
But in the recent, four-day period of continuous strikes, the number of bombs dropped rose sharply.
“The number of weapons expended was more than double the previous week's total,” Karns said. “There is a commitment to ensuring continued progress in Afghanistan and to make sure it does not become a safe haven for terrorists. Airpower is available and doing its part to ensure this does not occur.”
Oriana Pawlyk covers deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime and operations in the Middle East and Europe for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.