As US forces in Iraq prepare to pull
back from most major cities by June 30 according to an agreement
with the Iraqi government, U.S. air support will continue to enable
and protect security gains made over the past two years, a U.S.
commander said in a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable, recently.
Air Force Col. Michael Fantini, commander of the 332nd
Expeditionary Operations Group, oversees a spectrum of air support
missions that include nontraditional intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance; security operations support; high-end precision
engagement; airlift of passengers and cargo; and combat search and
rescue. His team is in charge of Predator and MC-12 surveillance
flights, among others.
With U.S. forces repositioning in accordance with Iraqi requests
and an improved security environment in urban areas, air support
remains a key enabler of continued security, Fantini said.
"I guess things are not necessarily at a lower operations tempo;
they're at a lower kinetic tempo," he said, meaning fewer combat
operations are taking place. "We are still providing nontraditional
intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance [and] traditional
Predator ISR, and now we're utilizing the MC-12, all to provide
that support to the ground force while the ground force is
transitioning out of the cities."
Fantini described commanders' view of the Iraq situation as one
of cautious optimism.
"We need to still be wary. It's still a dangerous environment
that can turn relatively quickly," he said. However, he noted, "The
fact that we see the lack of kinetic ops, the fact that we see a
huge decrease in attacks, is all part of that. In the air power, we
enable that every day by providing that support to the ground
Part of the long-term U.S. air mission is training the Iraqi air
force and lending intelligence support to Iraqi-led combat
missions. Fantini works through the Coalition Air Force Transition
Training Team as a liaison between coalition forces and the Iraqi
military, bridging the gap between subject-matter experts and
"What I do to enable that is cross-talk with that organization,"
Fantini said, with a goal of enabling the Iraqi forces to "continue
to take on more and more of their security responsibility."
Fantini's team is based out of Joint Base Balad, one of several
large coalition air bases in Iraq. He described it as "pretty much
the single largest base in Operation Iraqi Freedom" and "home for
the busiest single runway operation in the Department of Defense."
[ANN Thanks Tim Kilbride, American Forces Press Service]