KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- About 300 airmen from across the U.S. Air Force will deploy for the first time to Diyarbakir Air Base in Turkey, where their mission will be to retrieve downed U.S. or coalition pilots and injured personnel in Syria and Iraq, the Air Force says.
The main group deploying is a Guardian Angel Weapons System, said Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe–Air Forces Africa. The elite Special Operations unit includes pararescue airmen, combat rescue officers and survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists.
"The main purpose of the deployment is personnel recovery capability," Crane said, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, which targets Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
The airmen will be on standby so they can quickly respond to and retrieve U.S. personnel or coalition partners, whether it's a downed pilot or a ground combatant with battle wounds, he said.
For operational security reasons, the Air Force is not identifying the name of the Guardian Angel unit and from which base it's deploying, Crane said.
According to a 2012 Air Combat Command fact sheet, the primary Guardian Angel active-duty units are located at Kadena Air Base, Japan; Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nev.; Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz.; Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga.; and Lakenheath Air Base in England. There are also several Air Force guard and reserve rescue squadrons.
Since August 2014, the U.S. has conducted about 5,590 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State militant group targets, according to the Defense Department. Coalition partners, meanwhile, have carried out about 1,572 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, according to Pentagon estimates.
A recent agreement with the Turkish government has allowed the U.S. to expand its mission against the Islamic State group. In early August, the Air Force began launching manned and unmanned airstrikes from Turkey's Incirlik Air Base. Six F-16 fighter jets and about 300 personnel from Aviano Air Base, Italy, will soon wrap up their deployment to Incirlik, Crane said. Their replacement hasn't been named yet.
Diyarbakir is in southeastern Turkey, about 100 miles from the Syrian border. The base serves as headquarters for the Turkish air force's 8th Wing, whose pilots fly F-16s. Some of those fighter jets reportedly carried out Turkey's first attacks on Islamic State targets in Syria this summer.
It's the first time the U.S. Air Force has temporarily deployed to the base, Crane said. The U.S. Air Force was able to build some tents and staging areas for its assets there, he said.