Eyes in the sky in Afghanistan

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Members of the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group here prepared F-16 Fighting Falcons and secured the skies of Afghanistan during a mission  on Jan. 9.

The F-16 is a multi-role fighter aircraft that provides air superiority, enabling freedom of movement for troops on the ground as well as close air support for troops engaged in combat.

After nearly a decade and a half, United States combat operations are over in Afghanistan, but forces from Hill Air Force Base continue to be deployed there.

The Department of Defense officially concluded Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan that began in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in late 2014. 

But 2015 brings a brand-new follow-on mission, called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which aims to help secure and build on the past 13 years of U.S. involvement in the country.

Nathan Simmons, a spokesman with Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing, said the wing has F-16 jets and personnel stationed with the U.S. Central Command participating in the new operation and another NATO-led non-combat mission called Resolute Support, which corresponds with Freedom’s Sentinel.

Simmons said that with Freedom’s Sentinel, the U.S. is pursuing two missions — securing the support of the Afghan government and the Afghan people. According to a Defense Department news release, U.S. forces will “work with our allies and partners as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission to continue training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces.”

Forces will continue counterterrorism missions against the remnants of Al-Qaeda to ensure that Afghanistan isn’t used to stage attacks against the United States and allies.

“It’s counterterrorism and security,” Simmons said.

The DOD hasn’t given any indication of how long the operations will last, or how long forces will continue to be dispatched to Afghanistan.

As those new missions continue to ramp up, U.S. CENTCOM forces continue almost daily military airstrikes against the terrorist group called the Islamic State, or ISIS, in Syria and Iraq. Using drones and attack, bomber and fighter aircraft, U.S. and coalition forces are continually targeting ISIS fighting positions, tactical units and buildings, bunkers and weapons.

Hill spokesman Micah Garbarino said no base units or personnel are involved in those attacks. 

Although Hill’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex performs depot repair, modification and maintenance support for the F-22 Raptor, which has been used in the ISIS strikes, F-22 jets are not flying directly to Syria after repair or maintenance at Hill, nor are they being sent directly to Hill if they should need work after missions in Syria.

Portions of an AFCENT news release were used in this story.

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