U.S. combat aircraft will soon start flying out of a base in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq as part of an expanded air campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadists, the Pentagon said Thursday.
Press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby confirmed “armed and manned” U.S. aircraft would fly from Arbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, but declined to provide more details.
American fighter jets and other warplanes bombing ISIS militants in Iraq previously have been flying out of bases and from aircraft carriers in the region outside Iraq.
The airfield in Arbil would allow some fighter jets easier access to the battlefront, a defense official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Fighters have a shorter range than bombers or surveillance planes and using a nearby base allows for more time over a target while reducing the need to frequently refuel, the official said.
The use of Arbil’s air base reflects the broadening U.S. campaign against ISIS militants, though attack helicopters already have been flying out of bases in Iraq.
The Pentagon did not say what type of “manned” aircraft were involved or how many aircraft will deploy to Arbil.
“There’s still some decisions that have yet to be made on exact sourcing solutions,” Kirby told reporters.
But he indicated that U.S. bombing raids in Iraq would expand in support of Iraqi government and Kurdish forces battling the ISIS militants.
“The kind of support we’re going to be giving to Iraqi forces will be more aggressive from the air,” Kirby said, without providing details.
His comments came a day after President Barack Obama’s vow to wage a “relentless” war against the ISIS extremists in Iraq and Syria, under a plan that relies on U.S. air power while arming and training local forces battling the jihadists.
Since August 8, U.S. aircraft have carried out more than 150 bombing raids in Iraq, with most of the strikes targeting IS militants threatening Mosul dam.
Obama’s strategy calls for more assistance for local forces in Iraq and “moderate” rebel fighters in Syria, with an additional 475 troops to serve as “advisers” to Iraqi troops or in support roles.
The additional troops, which will bring the total number of U.S. forces in Iraq to 1,600, will start arriving in Iraq “next week,” Kirby said.
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