US Aircraft Return to Surge-Level Operations in Afghanistan

An F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan prepares to be refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron Det 1 over the skies of Afghanistan. Air Force photo by SSgt. Sean Martin.

US aircraft are striking targets in Afghanistan at a pace not seen since the peak of the surge in 2010.

In October, US aircraft conducted 653 strikes in Afghanistan, according to statistics released by Air Forces Central Command. That tally is the highest total since aircraft conducted 866 airstrikes in November 2010. That month was during President Obama’s surge into Afghanistan, a month that included the Battle of Sangin, and the deaths of 48 US troops in hostile actions across the country.

That pace is only going to increase through the rest of the year, said Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US Forces-Afghanistan. So far in 2017, US aircraft have dropped 3,554 bombs—almost double 2016’s final tally of 1,337.

The October total does not include the US and Afghan military’s new offensive targeting of Taliban opium production. On Nov. 19, B-52s and F-22s kicked off Operation Jagged Knife when they conducted strikes on heroin-producing labs in Helmand Province.

“This is the tempo we maintain,” Nicholson told reporters on Nov. 20. “Now, of course, we’re very deliberate and judicious about striking these, in order to ensure that there’s no collateral damage and there’s no civilian casualties. But this is going to be steady pressure that’s going to stay up, and we’re not going to let up.”

This high operations tempo is possible because operations targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria have eased recently. US efforts there “have gone well,” Nicholson said, “so we’re beginning to see the effects of a shift of resources, which will increase over the course of the winter, going into the spring, as the situation continues to improve there.”

In October, US-led coalition aircraft conducted 1,642 strikes as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. That is the lowest total since November 2014, according to AFCENT statistics.

In addition to strike aircraft, more intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and air refueling assets will be freed from operations in Iraq and Syria to bolster the effort in Afghanistan, Nicholson said.