It is the fertile crescent; the land between two rivers; home to the great Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian civilizations; the country with oil reserves and a rich agrarian society; amidst other lands lacking in water and agrarian lands masses. No wonder we were interested…..
AIR FORCE INCREASES ITS ACTIVITY IN IRAQ
….(The) Air Force has quietly built up its hardware inside Iraq, sharply stepped up bombing and laid a foundation for a sustained air campaign in support of American and Iraqi forces.
Squadrons of attack planes have been added to the in-country fleet. The air reconnaissance arm has almost doubled since last year. The powerful B1-B bomber has been recalled to action over Iraq. The escalation worries some about an increase in “collateral damage,” casualties among Iraqi civilians. Air Force generals worry about wear and tear on aging aircraft. But ground commanders clearly like what they see.
“Night before last we had 14 strikes from B-1 bombers. Last night we had 18 strikes by B-1 bombers,” Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said approvingly of air support his 3rd Infantry Division received in a recent offensive south of Baghdad.
Statistics tell the story: Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped 437 bombs and missiles in Iraq in the first six months of 2007, a fivefold increase over the 86 used in the first half of 2006, and three times more than in the second half of 2006, according to Air Force data. In June, bombs dropped at a rate of more than five a day.
Inside spacious, air-conditioned “Kingpin,” a new air traffic control center at this huge Air Force hub 50 miles north of Baghdad, the expanded commitment can be seen on the central display screen: Small points of light represent more than 100 aircraft crisscrossing Iraqi air space at any one time.
The increased air activity has paralleled the reinforcement of U.S. ground troops, beginning in February, to try to suppress the insurgency and sectarian violence in the Baghdad region. Simply keeping those 30,000 additional troops supplied has added to demands on the Air Force.
“We’re the busiest aerial port in DOD (Department of Defense),” said Col. Dave Reynolds, a mission support commander here. Working 12-hour shifts, his cargo handlers are expected to move 140,000 tons of cargo this year, one-third more than in 2006, he said….
Air Force engineers, meanwhile, are improving this centrally located home base, which supports some 10,000 air operations per week.
The weaker of Balad’s two 11,000-foot runways was reinforced – for five to seven years’ more hard use. The engineers next will build concrete “overruns” at the runways’ ends. Balad’s strategic ramp, the concrete parking lot for its biggest planes, was expanded last fall. The air traffic control system is to be upgraded again with the latest technology.
“We’d like to get it to be a field like Langley, if you will,” said mission support chief Reynolds, referring to the Air Force showcase base in Virginia.