The A-10 Thunderbolt II attack jet has been carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State since late November on a near-daily basis, a U.S. military official said Tuesday. It marks the first time the use of the pugnacious plane against the militant group has been confirmed, although U.S. military officials disclosed last month that they had deployed the A-10 in support of the mission in Iraq and Syria.
The jet is beloved by U.S. ground troops for its ability to strikes enemy fighters from the air, but it remains in a fierce budget battle in Washington. Air Force officials and some fiscal conservatives have advocated retiring the aircraft to save money and using other planes for close-air support missions. A compromise in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act will keep it flying at least one more year, but it’s future afterward is still uncertain.
The slow-moving jet isn’t designed to get into dogfights with fighter jets, but is well suited for the mission in Iraq and Syria. Nicknamed the Warthog, it has an armored belly to protect pilots from ground fire, and carries a 30mm Gatling gun cannon and a variety of bombs, missiles and rockets. It has been in the Air Force since the 1970s and flown in combat missions since the 1990s.
Air Force officials said last month that the A-10s had arrived at an undisclosed base in the region between Nov. 17 and Nov. 21, and will support Operation Inherent Resolve – the mission against the Islamic State – and other operations in the region. The jets will be part of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group, which was reactivated Nov. 16. The unit has a long history of combat operations, and worked from an air base in southwest Asia in 2011 to provide support to U.S. troops in Iraq as the last convoys left the country, military officials said.
The U.S. military has carried out more than 1,200 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since Aug. 8, but it does not typically disclose which kind of planes are carrying out each one. The A-10 is considered an “attack aircraft,” which are cited frequently in the strikes. It’s likely that other forms of attack aircraft are also in use, such as C-130 gunships armed with a variety of missiles and cannons.
UPDATE, 8:56 p.m. Two readers point out that an unconfirmed video has been circulating online of an A-10 striking in the town of Rawah in western Iraq on Dec. 5. One version of it was posted on YouTube here: