U.S. commanders have been sending A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft in recent weeks to hit ISIS targets in Iraq but not in Syria, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
The use of the A-10s followed the announcement last month by military officials that A-10s had deployed in mid-November to the Middle East in support of Operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"While they're there we will maximize their use," an Air Force spokeswoman said at the time.
The A-10 Warthogs have conducted multiple strikes against ISIS in central and northwestern Iraq but have thus far been restricted from flying missions in Syria, the officials said.
There was no immediate assessment given on the effectiveness of the A-10 strikes or the targets hit.
In the Middle East, the A-10s have been assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group, which was re-activated in mid-November. The 332nd had operated out of the Balad Air Base during the Iraq war.
The 12 A-10s assigned to the 332nd were from the Indiana Air National Guard's 163rd Fighter Squadron, a unit of the 122nd Fighter Wing. The A-10s from the 163rd had been operating in Afghanistan.
The presence of the A-10s in the campaign against ISIS followed a long debate in Congress over Air Force and Pentagon plans to retire the A-10 fleet to free up funding and maintenance personnel for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
Designed in the 1970s by Fairchild Republic as "tank busters' to deter the Soviet threat in Europe, A-10s had their missions increasingly taken over by other aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Advocates of the A-10, such as Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, responded that the A-10 and its 30mm Gatling gun remained the best close air support weapon in the Air Force inventory.
The advocates prevailed in Congress and the recently-passed National Defense Authorization Act included $337 million in funding to extend the life of the A-10s for at least another year.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org