B-52s dropping bombs once again in Afghanistan

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the U.S. Air Force’s iconic B-52 Stratofortress bomber has been flying continuous missions over Afghanistan for months, as the American aerial campaign in the country expands in the face of resurgent and emerging threats, including Taliban insurgents and ISIS-linked terrorists. The flights have been part of an existing surge in air support as the service says it is still looking at how best to contribute to President Donald Trump’s new U.S. strategy for the region.

Since March 2017, the B-52s, or BUFFs, have dropped more than 800 individual weapons on Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS-K targets in support of U.S. forces and the NATO-led coalition, U.S. Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT), the top Air Force command for operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, told The War Zone in an Email. This works out to an average of approximately 150 bombs dropped every month.

ISIS-K, or ISIS-Khorasan, is the terrorist group’s franchise in Afghanistan, which first appeared in January 2015. The bombers had already been striking at the main body of the organization in Iraq and Syria from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar since April 2016.

ISIS-K, or ISIS-Khorasan, is the terrorist group’s franchise in Afghanistan, which first appeared in January 2015. The bombers had already been striking at the main body of the organization in Iraq and Syria from Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar since April 2016.

At the time of writing, AFCENT’s public affairs office had not yet responded to a query about what specific types of weapons the bombers had been dropping in Afghanistan. In sorties against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the BUFFs have been carrying a mixture of 500-pound class GBU-38/B and 2,000 GBU-31/B GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). These have been among the Air Force’s most commonly employed weapons in Afghanistan for close air support and other missions, according to an official presentation from earlier in 2017.

In addition to directly attacking targets, the aircraft can provide limited surveillance capabilities thanks to the infrared camera in its Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod. The bombers can drop inert bombs full of propaganda leaflets to help with psychological warfare missions, as well.

Regardless of the particular weapons they’ve employed, the aging B-52s have been able to use their large bomb load, long range, and ability to orbit the battlefield for extended periods, even when flying all the way from Qatar, to their advantage over Afghanistan. The bombers have reportedly carried as many as 30 bombs, which would require the use of upgrades to their bomb bays that allows the aircraft to carry precision guided munitions internally.

“In essence, if we had 30 targets, we could hit 30 targets,” U.S. Air Force Major General James Hecker, who runs the coalition air war in Afghanistan, told Air Force Magazine in an interview earlier in 2017. “It gives us a fairly large capability.”

While dropping more bombs might keep Taliban insurgents and ISIS-K terrorists at bay temporarily, these are the issues that will continue to make or break the chances of any real resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan.

 

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