Air Force Sets Another B-52 Smart Bomb Record in Afghanistan

FILE PHOTO -- A U.S. B-52 Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron sits on the flight line at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Nov. 6, 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Patrick Evenson)
FILE PHOTO -- A U.S. B-52 Stratofortress aircraft assigned to the 69th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron sits on the flight line at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Nov. 6, 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Patrick Evenson)

The B-52 Stratofortress this week set another record for the number of smart bombs dropped from the iconic bomber, officials said Tuesday.

Over the past 96 hours in Afghanistan, the aircraft played a leading role against the Taliban, striking the militant group's training facilities in Badakhshan province with 24 smart bombs, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said in a release. That's up from a previous record set in November of 19 precision-guided munitions.

"During these strikes, a U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress dropped 24 precision-guided munitions on Taliban fighting positions, setting a record of the most guided munitions ever dropped from a B-52," Tuesday's release said. The strikes prevented "the planning and rehearsal of terrorist acts near the border with China and Tajikistan," it said.

The B-52 is capable of carrying 70,000 pounds of munitions, which range in weight from around 500 pounds for a conventional bomb to roughly 2,000 pounds for a precision-guided weapon. Thus, the aircraft can carry more than 100 bombs, with a typical ordnance mix of about 70 percent unguided and 30 percent guided.

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Additional strikes destroyed "stolen Afghan National Army vehicles that were in the process of being converted to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices," the release said.

F-16 Fighting Falcons from Bagram Air Base conducted the bombing run against the stolen vehicles, Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, spokesman for Air Forces Central Command, told Military.com on Tuesday.

The long-range strategic bomber, stationed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, carried out its first record-breaking precision-guided munition drop during a mission in Afghanistan in November, a feat credited in part to its new conventional rotary launcher that allows the Cold War-era bomber to carry more smart bombs.

"The CRL is essentially a revolver in the bomb bay that turns and jettisons precision munitions one at a time," Pickart said.

Over the course of that November mission -- part of the expanded "new offensive campaign" against the Taliban's revenue stream -- B-52s released 19 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, against multiple targets, Air Forces Central Command spokeswoman Capt. AnnMarie Annicelli told Military.com at the time.

Empowered with more independence and authority under the Trump administration, the U.S. military began its expanded air offensive campaign in the fall.

Officials in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility since then have turned to a number of technologies in the military's arsenal for the war in Afghanistan, such as the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter.

During the same offensive in November, the Air Force sent the F-22 on its first operational mission against the Taliban.

The service in April dropped the most powerful conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal -- the 21,600-pound GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), nicknamed "mother of all bombs" -- in Afghanistan in the first-ever use of the munition in combat.

U.S. Forces-Afghanistan on Tuesday said the latest strikes are part of a "direct effort to destroy insurgent revenue sources, training facilities, and support networks."

"The Taliban have nowhere to hide," Gen.John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said in the release. "There will be no safe haven for any terrorist group bent on bringing harm and destruction to this country."

B-52s in 2017 dropped approximately 1,500 weapons (with about 50 percent unguided) in Afghanistan, AfCent officials said in December.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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