AFCENT: The fight against Da’esh
Jason Koxvold / email@example.com / 845.981.9550
In late 2016, the US Air Force invited me to spend some time at two air bases at undisclosed locations in Southwest Asia, to tell a photographic story of how we fight Da’esh.
Since long before 9/11, the US Air Force has had a strong presence in the Middle East. In the years following, that presence has grown massively in scale, with as many as 15 bases spread across AFCENT’s Area of Responsibility. Tens of thousands of men and women from over 60 coalition nations work in the region, currently focused on destroying Da’esh through the use of precision air power, and supporting Coalition ground forces as they move through Iraq and Syria.
Since the air war began in the summer of 2014, the coalition air operation has killed more than 50,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, in about 17,000 strikes, from a combination of B-1 and B-52 bombers, F-15 Strike Eagles, F-22 Raptors, MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper RPAs, and other aircraft. Many of these aircraft are refueled in-flight and stay on-station for as long as possible, ready to respond to calls for close air support.
To an outsider, one of the most surprising aspects of this fight is the ‘constant stare’ of surveillance, achieved through a number of different tools and platforms. U-2 manned aircraft fly at 80,000 feet above Iraq and Syria; remotely-piloted RQ-4 Global Hawks provide similar capabilities but with longer loiter times, casting a wide surveillance net over the areas they patrol. EC-130 Compass Call aircraft monitor, jam, and subvert communications.
Only a small proportion of the Air Force is made up of pilots. The rest is comprised of other essential roles: maintenance, logistics, weapons management, security, flightline operations, and many more. Many of these roles are staffed by young airmen, who bear a tremendous responsibility to keep missions running safely and on schedule.
This war has not been fought in the trenches like the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The men and women deployed to these locations enjoy certain creature comforts, from sports fields to bars and nightclubs - and good wifi.