It appears American warplanes—including low- and slow-flying A-10 Warthog attack jets—have struck Islamic State forces in western Iraq, possibly in order to protect the strategic Haditha Dam.
A video posted to Youtube depicts at least one A-10—the heavily-armored planes usually fly in pairs—circling over a town, firing its devastating 30-millimeter cannon at targets on the ground. The gun’s distinctive buuuurp sound is clearly audible.
The video, which the poster claims was shot in Rawa on Dec. 5, is the first evidence of the controversial A-10s striking Islamic State forces.
It’s not surprising that the A-10s would go into action over Rawa. The town is just a few miles from Haditha Dam, with regulates water supplies for much of Iraq. Rawa and the dam lie on the outskirts of Ramadi, one of western Iraq’s major cities.
Islamic State militants invaded western Iraq’s Al Anbar province in early 2014, easily capturing Fallujah and other cities and towns. The militants seized Rawa in June. Pro-U.S. Sunni tribesmen have reportedly infiltrated Rawa to fight the Islamist occupiers from within the town.
Baghdad’s troops still hold both Haditha Dam and Ramadi—but only barely. The A-10s are a major boost to the area’s defenses.
A dozen or so Warthogs from the Indiana Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing arrived in the Middle East—at a base in Kuwait, apparently—in mid-November.
The deployment came amid a heated debate over the future of the Air Force’s roughly 300 A-10s. The flying branch wants to retire the decades-old attack jets in order to free up money and people for new F-35 stealth fighters.
But critics have pointed out that the powerful, heavily-protected A-10 can do things that no F-35 can—namely, fly low and slow and attack enemies just yards from friendly troops. Moreover, the A-10 is cheap. It costs just under $400 million a year to fly all 300 Warthogs, which the Air Force purchased in the 1970s and ’80s.
The same money can buy maybe four F-35s.
To quiet the A-10’s supporters, the Air Force suppressed a documentary that its own public affairs branch made about the Warthog. Still, Congress rejected the Air Force’s proposal to retire the attack jets, adding money to the Pentagon’s 2015 budget to keep most of the planes in the air.
The Air Force has been coy about the A-10s in Kuwait. “They’re going over there because there’s a need … to be postured for a combat rescue mission,” Jennifer Cassidy, an Air Force spokesperson, told Stars and Stripes.
While it’s true that A-10 pilots train to protect rescue helicopters retrieving downed pilots, the Warthog fliers are equally adept at smashing enemy vehicles and infantry during intensive ground fighting.
And that’s exactly what the A-10s appear to be doing over Rawa, aiming low to blast Islamic State with their cannons, helping to protect Haditha Dam and the millions of Iraqis who depend on the dam.