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The US and its allies are increasingly turning to the air for support in their war against the so-called Islamic State (IS). The air force is already deploying dozens of US fighter jets to take on the IS and have dispatched more F-16 fighter jets to train Syrian rebels fighting the group in neighbouring Iraq.
There will be a further 40 or so aircraft at the request of coalition partners like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to conduct strikes in support of Iraqi forces and Kurdish troops who have seized about a third of territory in Iraq’s Anbar province.
But the most significant deployment will be of US special forces to join forces with Kurdish forces on the ground.
While US officials downplayed details of the US plan during a press conference, it is believed that the US is considering providing the Iraqi military with air cover to help them fight IS. It could involve flying US or Arab fighter jets across the border and then joining Kurdish forces on the ground for air support. An unnamed senior defense official told Reuters US special forces were still in the process of assessing the military impact of a mission, which was “just a start”.
The deployment is a significant escalation in the US involvement in the conflict. The US began air strikes in Iraq last August, with the intention of supporting Iraqi forces fighting IS. But the campaign has been beset by setbacks, including the loss of key coalition aircraft.
“It’s like an airplane, you know fly it and it doesn’t come back,” Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman said. “So we’re working to see how much we can reduce the cost and make the mission effective; and there are a number of technical challenges to be addressed.”
The US and several other allies have also used drones, but only after the US government had agreed a new policy allowing the use of such aircraft without explicit permission from Congress. The new policy allows the US to use drones against IS targets, but that allows for exceptions to the ban against lethal force as the war would likely be over in months.
With few aircraft able to fly in the air from a runway, the US now has to wait for other countries to allow operations. China
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