If you need more proof of American “boots on the ground” in northern Iraq and Syria–both now and in the future–consider this announcement, made yesterday by the Indiana Air National Guard. Kudos to The Hill, one of the few media outlets that (apparently) understands its significance:
The six-month deployment from the 122nd Fighter Wing is not specifically part of President Obama’s fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but the airmen and jets could provide air support to troops battling ISIS on the ground.
“While it is common for the active duty Air Force to deploy a base overseas for an extended amount of time, the 122nd Fighter Wing is one of the only Air National Guard bases in history to take on a mission of this size and length,” Renwick said.
But Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that recommendations on using ground troops would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Oddly enough, the article appeared just hours before the U.S. and five Arab countries launched air strikes
against ISIS targets in Syria. A variety of platforms, including F-16s, B-1s and the F-22 Raptor, which made its combat debut during the raid.
But the A-10s specialty is close air support for ground forces, and it has no peer at that mission (with the possible exception of the AC-130 gunship). It’s a fair bet the ANG Warthogs will be tasked to go after ISIS targets along the battle lines in northern Iraq and in eastern Syria as well. Dating back to the first Gulf War, A-10s have ranged deep into enemy territory to engage enemy ground forces and other targets. When the Hog first entered the Air Force inventory almost 40 years ago, few imagined a CAS platform would take on an interdiction mission, but in a permissive air defense environment–like the one along the Iraq-Syria border–the A-10 is a weapon of choice.
And it’s even more effective when paired with ground controllers, who can identify and designate targets. To be fair, A-10 pilots can also perform that mission, as an airborne forward air controller (FAC-A). But with U.S. special forces already in northern Iraq (and more on the way), it’s easy to envision the A-10s working with SOF personnel (qualified as terminal attack controllers) on both sides of the border.
There is, of course, a certain irony in all of this: in recent months, the Air Force has been trying to retire the Hog fleet, hoping to use the money devoted to A-10 operations and maintenance on other programs.
But the Hog has friends on Capitol Hill and among the ground services, so the A-10 was granted a reprieve, at least for now. So the 122nd Fighter Wing will head to the sandbox in a few weeks, and life will become a lot tougher for ISIS fighters riding around in those Toyota pick-up trucks.
ADDENDUM: A beddown base for the A-10s has not been announced, but don’t be surprised if they wind up in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, instead of the Baghdad area. That would put them closer to ISIS targets and allow the unit to fly more missions each day. At this juncture, the biggest limitation on A-10 operations (that we can see) is the small number of Hogs being sent to the fight. For Operation Desert Storm, the U.S. dispatched entire wings of A-10s, instead of a single squadron. Thanks to system upgrades, the remaining A-10s are more capable than ever, but quantity does have a quality all its own.