The low- and slow-flying A-10 Warthog jet is back in the Middle East—seven years after the attack planes withdrew.
The prospect of A-10s joining the war against Islamic State was subject to rumors in September, when elements of the Indiana Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing—which flies the twin-engine A-10—deployed to Southwest Asia.
The Air Force finally confirmed the A-10s were in the region on Nov. 24, noting the aircraft “landed here over several days” between Nov. 17 and Nov. 21.
While it’s not clear whether the Indiana A-10s have carried out any strikes against Islamic State yet … they surely will soon. The Warthogs’ mission is to provide close-air support to Iraqi army and police and Kurdish Peshmerga troops fighting on the ground.
An Air Force spokesman confirmed to Air Force magazine that the A-10s “will only be supporting military requirements in the Gulf region, including but not limited to, Operation Inherent Resolve.”
Inherent Resolve is the Pentagon’s code name for air strikes and other U.S.-led efforts targeting Islamic State.
We don’t know the precise location of the A-10s’ base in the Middle East, but Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait is one possibility. The U.S. previously based A-10s at Balad air base in Iraq with the 438th Air Expeditionary Group.
This current strike force is part of the newly-reactivated 332nd Air Expeditionary Group. The 332nd was previously at Al Jaber between 1998 and 2012, according to an Air Combat Command official history that War Is Boring obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Recent Defense Department photos, reproduced at top and below, show A-10s on a tarmac with buildings painted in desert-khaki in the background. The outline of what appears to be a French Rafale fighter jet carrying guided bombs is visible in the background of one photo.
The A-10s reportedly spent a few weeks in Afghanistan in or around October before heading to the Middle East this month to bolster the growing allied air armada striking Islamic State.
The venerable attack jets—the newest is some 30 years old—boast some advantages over the F-15s, F–16s, F/A-18s and European jets that comprise the international armada’s main warplanes. The A-10s can fly at slower speeds, given their pilots a better view of the ground and potential targets.
They’re also tough—thanks to their titanium armor—and come bristling with bombs, missiles and a 30-millimeter rotating cannon. That hasn’t stopped the Air Force from trying to prematurely retire the A-10s, however.
The U.S. bombed Islamic State 17 times between Nov. 24 and 26—seven of those strikes in Syria—using “attack, fighter and remotely-piloted aircraft,” according to a statement from U.S. Central Command.
All but one of the strikes in Iraq occurred in northern Iraq, the exception being an attack on an Islamic State checkpoint near Ramadi in the west.
This is a problem for Iraqi troops defending Ramadi—the last remaining major government strongpoint in Al Anbar province. In late November, Islamic State fighters launched an offensive into the city with reinforcements from Syria.
If Ramadi falls, then Islamic State will be in a better position to move supplies from Syria and threaten Baghdad. The let-up in air strikes in Al Anbar puts the troops defending the city at risk of being overrun.
“If the coalition doesn’t continue targeting the nests of Da’ash, everything that we’re doing now will just be in vain,” Ramadi police officer Ahmed Mishan Al Dulaimi told a McClatchy reporter, using an Arabic term for Islamic State.
Part of the problem is that the U.S. only has so many warplanes to throw at the conflict. There’s a debate raging within the White House and the Pentagon over America’s strategy in Iraq and Syria.
One school of thought is for the military to go big and expand the war even farther into Syria. That is, if the White House gives the military the means to do it.
The counterargument is that the U.S. is already over-extended.
After Pres. Barack Obama announced the resignation of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Nov. 24, The Washington Post quoted a retired four-star general moaning that the military is receiving “the absolute minimum levels [of resources] for any chance of success.”
The military has argued that expanding the air war—over Aleppo, specifically—would further strain the military’s resources, a White House official told the Post.
Like in Ramadi. The police officer McClatchy interviewed said the U.S. military told him that coalition warplanes were needed elsewhere. We should see soon if the A-10s come to the rescue.