Monday, March 6, 2017

Syrian airfield, once 'a flat spot on the ground,' helps with battle against ISIS

Syrian airfield, once 'a flat spot on the ground,' helps with battle against ISIS: The Air Force’s effort to build, rebuild and expand airfields in Iraq and Syria is a central element of the coalition’s push to defeat the Islamic State, the deputy commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria said that an airfield in northern Syria — the Air Force would not say on the record exactly where — and the Qayyarah West Air Field near Mosul, Iraq, are “key for setting a posture for the fight to continue” against ISIS.

About 500 U.S. combat advisers are in Syria coordinating efforts to destroy the Islamic State, while about 5,000 American troops are deployed to Iraq.

The Syrian airfield began as “a flat spot on the ground,” Silveria said during a meeting with reporters at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium.

Over time, engineers from Air Mobility Command lengthened it and are still building it out today, he said.

“The longer we made the runway, that allowed more cargo weight to be brought in,” Silveria said. “We were accelerating the number of sorties. [Having a runway in northern Syria] gave us the access to start to bring in supplies, ammunition, for our own forces, for opposition forces, etc, in the entire area.”

Last week, the runway in Syria saw its 50th C-17 landing, Silveria said. It has also seen more than 100 C-130 sorties. And without that runway, “we’d be operating at much greater distances and it’d be much more difficult to get into Syria.”

The Qayyarah West Airfield has similarly proved to be a vital staging area for the battle in Mosul, Silveria said. Without it, he said forces would have had to move from much further south to try to force ISIS out of the strategically key city.