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Air Force 'Surging' Too
The Air Force is increasing the number of personnel and aircraft in the Middle East to support the 21,500 ground troops joining the battle in Iraq as part of President Bush’s “surge” plan, the service’s chief strategist in the region tells Inside the Air Force.
“We have increased our force posture in Iraq in anticipation of the surge,” Lt. Col. Clint Hinote said in a Jan. 30 phone interview from the Air Force’s Combined Air Operations Center, located somewhere in Southwest Asia. The service does not disclose the exact location of the facility.
“We’ve brought over more fighters to better provide overwatch for the ground units in Iraq,” he said through a service spokeswoman in a Feb. 1 e-mail. “We’re also preparing to deploy more [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] assets to provide more information to ground ops.
“We’re bringing over more tankers to meet the increased [operations], and we are flying our airlift assets at high capacity to move the huge amount of people and equipment,” he added. “In addition to this, there’s the widely publicized deployment of two carrier strike groups to the [area of responsibility], which will further increase the air power footprint in theater.”
At press time (Feb. 1), the specific number of increased personnel was not available. However, “generically speaking, the number of airmen working outside their core [career fields], supporting sister service missions [in-lieu-of] positions, has undoubtedly increased over the past [six] months,” the spokeswoman said in the same e-mail.
“We anticipated what was going to happen and we adjusted our force mixture to . . . make it a little bit easier to flow air- [and] space-power sorties to the warfighters there in Iraq because we do anticipate there’s going to be an increased need for air power over this surge period,” Hinote said in the telephone interview.
Lt. Gen. Gary North, the Air Force’s top general at U.S. Central Command in Iraq, decided he needed more manpower and “put into motion” bringing the right force posture to “handle the needs of the ground forces,” Hinote added.
An anticipated increase in insurgent attacks during the spring months also played a role in the decision to bring more airmen to the Middle East, he said. Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there has been increased insurgent activity in the spring, he noted.
“This spring period was going to be a critical period no matter what,” Hinote said. “If we had more troops on the ground -- or . . . if we started moving troops out -- the need for air would have been very important during this springtime period.”
Traditionally in counterinsurgency operations, the Air Force’s two most powerful “effects” have been intelligence gathering and the rapid movement of troops and supplies, he said.
“We have the right force structure now -- we believe [we can] . . . provide that support for the folks that are coming over for the surge,” he said.
If the Air Force can provide the necessary air power, it will allow the ground troops “to stabilize first Baghdad and then the areas surrounding Baghdad,” Hinote said. “If we can do that over the time we can be well-served by all those folks coming over.”
The service will use the force increases to step up its intelligence-gathering patrols, as well as troop transport missions, Hinote said. Commanders tell ITAF they have tracked and captured insurgent improvised explosive device planters and builders with the help of aircraft conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions using targeting pods and other devices.
“We are certainly doing a better job at rolling up the IED networks, without a doubt,” he said. “We’ve seen some very strong successes in that area recently.”
When combating insurgents, a successful operation is driven by intelligence, “but it also gets more intelligence from the success,” Hinote said. “As we build from success to success, we’re able to roll up more of these IED systems, not just the IEDs themselves.”
This approach enabled U.S. forces to obtain information about the people placing the devices, the builders, the financiers and the leaders, he said.
“The best results we get are when we have a true air, land team effort out there,” Hinote said.
In addition to the recent Air Force troop increase, officials at the theater-based air operations center in December asked the Pentagon to send additional space operators to the region. These new operators will represent space commanders at the air control center’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance division and battlefield coordination detachment, Col. Jay Raymond, director of space forces at the center, said in a Dec. 15 telephone interview.
Additionally, as more airmen and troops head to Iraq, the Air Force has already begun the process of upgrading and expanding bases in Baghdad and Balad, which also could see an increase in troop levels, according to Pentagon documents.
DOD has already obligated more than $97 million in operations and management funds for the infrastructure upgrades, according to an Oct. 5 report submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee by Pentagon Comptroller Tina Jonas. The report details six construction projects at Balad Air Base and two at Sather Air Base, which is located at Baghdad International Airport.