B-1s Return to Middle East as Afghanistan Fight Ramps Up

A B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth AFB, S.D., arrives at Al Udeid AB, Qatar, March 31. AFCENT Twitter photo.

The Bones have returned to the Middle East.

On March 31, B-1B Lancers from Ellsworth AFB, S.D., touched down at Al Udeid AB, Qatar. The Lancers replaced B-52s that had been flying combat operations in support of the anti-ISIS fight in Iraq and Syria and the war in Afghanistan since 2016.

Before the B-52s arrived, B-1s had been flying combat operations in the Middle East continuously since 2001.

But the B-1s left CENTCOM in 2016 to undergo a much-needed modernization package, called the Integrated Battle Station upgrade. The package modernized the B-1’s avionics and data links, along with adding a self-diagnostic test system.

The rotation of B-1s and B-52s is another “continuous bomber presence” for the Air Force, in addition to the regular rotation of B-1s, B-52s, and B-2s deployed in the Pacific at Andersen AFB, Guam. While deployed to the Middle East, Stratofortresses flew more than 1,800 sorties, dropping nearly 12,000 targets in both Operations Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel, according to AFCENT.

The Lancers arrive at a time when airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria have waned, while strikes on the Taliban have increased dramatically in what CENTCOM is now describing as its “main effort.”