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Strikes target Taliban drug labs: 455th AEW plays key role

By Capt. Lyndsey Horn 455th Air Expeditionary Wing

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BAGRAM AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN, Nov. 27, 2017 — The 455th Air Expeditionary Wing played a pivotal role in the combined operations against Taliban revenue streams, Nov. 19-22, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

An F-16 fighting falcon assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron, takes off Nov. 21, 2017 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The launch was used in support of a new offensive campaign. Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) launched a series of ongoing attacks to hit the Taliban where they are most vulnerable: their revenue streams. Together, Afghan and U.S. forces conducted combined operations to strike drug labs and command-and-control nodes in northern Helmand province. These types of strikes represent the highest level of trust and cooperation between ANDSF and USFOR-A. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Divine Cox)
An F-16 fighting falcon assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron, takes off Nov. 21, 2017 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The launch was used in support of a new offensive campaign. Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) launched a series of ongoing attacks to hit the Taliban where they are most vulnerable: their revenue streams. Together, Afghan and U.S. forces conducted combined operations to strike drug labs and command-and-control nodes in northern Helmand province. These types of strikes represent the highest level of trust and cooperation between ANDSF and USFOR-A. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Divine Cox)
An F-16 fighting falcon assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron, takes off Nov. 21, 2017 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The launch was used in support of a new offensive campaign. Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) launched a series of ongoing attacks to hit the Taliban where they are most vulnerable: their revenue streams. Together, Afghan and U.S. forces conducted combined operations to strike drug labs and command-and-control nodes in northern Helmand province. These types of strikes represent the highest level of trust and cooperation between ANDSF and USFOR-A. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Divine Cox) F- 16 Fighting Falcon supports new offensive campaign in Afghanistan
An F-16 fighting falcon assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron, takes off Nov. 21, 2017 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The launch was used in support of a new offensive campaign. Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) launched a series of ongoing attacks to hit the Taliban where they are most vulnerable: their revenue streams. Together, Afghan and U.S. forces conducted combined operations to strike drug labs and command-and-control nodes in northern Helmand province. These types of strikes represent the highest level of trust and cooperation between ANDSF and USFOR-A. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Divine Cox)
Beginning Nov. 19, Afghan National Defense and Security Forces as well as U.S. Forces-Afghanistan launched a series of strikes targeting Taliban drug laboratories and one command and control node.

These strikes are just the beginning of a new campaign reflecting the U.S. strategy announcement that granted new authorities to U.S. Central Command this last summer, according to a USFOR-A news release.

The operation was a combined offensive. After the initial Afghan air force strikes, the wing’s assets paired with U.S. Air Force F-22A Raptors, B-52 Stratofortresses, and U.S. Marine Corps High Mobility Rocket Systems, or HIMARs.

“From day one of the operation, E-130H Compass Call aircraft acted as key nodes to deter enemy communications,” said Brig. Gen. Craig Baker, 455th AEW commander.

MQ-9 Reaper and E-11s were also crucial to initial and continued airstrikes.

“Our MQ-9s have become an essential component of operations in Afghanistan, providing an unblinking eye for days, weeks, and months,” said Col. Stephen Jones, 451st Air Expeditionary Group commander, whose unit is located at Kandahar Airfield. “Additionally our fleet of E-11 aircraft persistently link ground forces with fighter, bomber, and tanker aircraft, giving them the means to communicate with headquarters.”

The 455th AEW’s warfighting platforms provide diverse capabilities to USFOR-A and its Afghan counterparts. Along with the EC-130s, MQ-9s and E-11s, F-16 Vipers from the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron continued to strike Taliban targets over the next two nights, including more narcotics production facilities.

“This is the first time we’ve integrated with AAF and coalition forces in this way,” said Baker. “Though our wing’s mission hasn’t changed, because of the new U.S. strategy, we can now support a wider range of operations throughout the country, enabling Afghan air and ground forces to continue fighting through the winter.”

Aside from the air assets, all of the approximately 2,500 Airmen assigned to the 455th AEW were key players in delivering decisive airpower. The C-130J Super Hercules of the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron transported ground personnel and equipment ahead of the strikes while aeromedical evacuation crews were ready to assist at any time.

“The Vultures of the 455th AEW remain aware, vigilant, focused and efficient as they continue to defend, support, and deliver airpower,” said Baker. “We are the only combat airpower wing located in Afghanistan and we provide the proximity required to keep the pressure on our enemies. Each of our Airmen is ready to deliver airpower every day all the way to the end.”

Jones echoed Baker’s sentiments saying, “These operations do not just happen because we have amazing pilots and maintainers; they are made possible by a much larger team of force protection, civil engineering, personnelists, and airfield specialists who work together.”

Furthermore, behind each Airman’s relentless drive to support combat operations, Baker knows there is a family member at home awaiting his or her safe return.

“A huge thank you to our Airmen’s families for their continued support and contribution,” said Baker. “Without them, we couldn’t strive to be the premier counterterrorism wing, enabling a successful train, advise and assist mission in Afghanistan.”