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United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE)
United States Air Forces Africa (AFAFRICA)

US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), with headquarters at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is a major command of the US Air Force. It is also the air component for 2 Department of Defense unified commands, US European Command (EUCOM) and US Africa Command (AFRICOM). As the air component for both EUCOM and AFRICOM, USAFE directs air operations in a theater spanning three continents, covering more than 19 million square miles, containing 105 independent states and possessing more than a quarter of the world's population and more than a quarter of the world's Gross Domestic Product. USAFE's role includes warfighting as well as humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, and other non-traditional contingencies throughout its area of responsibility. In peacetime, USAFE trains and equips Air Force units pledged to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In fulfilling its NATO responsibilities, USAFE maintains combat-ready wings based from the United Kingdom to Turkey. USAFE plans, conducts, controls, coordinates and supports air and space operations in Europe and Asia to achieve U.S. national and NATO objectives based on taskings by the EUCOM commander.

USAFE originated as the 8th Air Force in 1942 and flew heavy bombardment missions over the European continent during World War II. In August 1945, the command was given its current name, US Air Forces in Europe. During the Berlin Airlift, USAFE airlifted more than 2.3 million tons of food, fuel and medical supplies with the aid of the US Navy and the British Royal Air Force. With the formation of NATO in 1949, the United States was committed to help defend Western Europe and USAFE again strengthened its airpower.

By the end of 1951, the Command's responsibilities had expanded in Europe and eventually to French Morocco, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Turkey, Italy and Spain. The increased responsibilities led to far reaching changes, including a major reorganization in 1967 when France withdrew from the NATO military command structure, forcing all foreign troops to leave.

In March 1973, Headquarters USAFE transferred from Lindsey Air Station, Wiesbaden, West Germany, to Ramstein Air Base. In June 1974, NATO's Allied Air Forces Central Europe was established at Ramstein, and the USAFE commander assumed a dual-hatted role, taking command of AIRCENT in addition to commanding US Air Force units in Europe. NATO's AIRCENT command subsequently became AIRNORTH.

The Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, ratified in 1988, mandated the first ever elimination of an entire class of weapons from US and Soviet inventories. USAFE completed removal of its ground launched cruise missiles and other weaponry in March 1991, when the last 16 missiles were removed from Comiso Air Station, Italy.

Beginning in late 1990, USAFE mobilized and moved more than 180 aircraft and 5,400 people to the Persian Gulf area in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In addition, 100 aircraft and 2,600 personnel were deployed to Turkey for Operation Proven Force, which denied the Iraqis a safe haven for their military forces in northern Iraq. USAFE also activated aeromedical staging facilities and contingency hospitals. More than 9,000 patients, mostly suffering from noncombat-related illnesses and injuries, were evacuated to Europe and more than 3,000 were treated at USAFE medical facilities.

After Desert Storm, USAFE provided immediate emergency relief to Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraqi forces by implementing Operation Provide Comfort, a no-fly zone enforcement over northern Iraq. As the initial Operation Provide Comfort drew to a close, Kurdish leaders asked for continued protection. This mission, known later as Operation Northern Watch, continued until March 2003, when the United States launched Operation Iraqi Freedom.

After Operation Desert Storm, USAFE operated at a rapid pace to save lives and meet the demands of real-world contingencies at hot spots throughout the European and African theater. This frequently put the command's airmen on the road supporting critical operations in northern and southern Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda and a host of other locations. USAFE participated in several major humanitarian efforts, including Provide Hope I and II, which airlifted food and medical supplies to the people of the former Soviet Union, and Provide Promise, the airlifting of supplies into a war-torn Yugoslavia from July 1992 until December 1995. Following 16 years of civil war in Angola, USAFE provided airmen and C-130 aircraft for Operation Provide Transition, which relocated government and rebel soldiers within the country in a United Nations effort to support democratic elections.

USAFE also provided air protection over the skies of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Operation Deny Flight. Along with allies from NATO countries, USAFE aircrews applied airpower in Operation Deliberate Force, the bombing campaign that paved the way for the Dayton Peace Agreement. USAFE's application of its diverse air assets delivered peace Implementation Force people and equipment for Operation Joint Endeavor and maintained sustaining airlift for the operation.

USAFE forces again mobilized in March 1999 when a new threat to peace and stability emerged in the Balkans. Serbian forces loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic invaded the Yugoslav Province of Kosovo in an effort to systematically remove the province's ethnic Albanian majority. Efforts to find a diplomatic solution collapsed, resulting in Operation Allied Force, the NATO-led air war over Kosovo. During the air war, US air forces fell under the control of USAFE's 16th Air Force. The 78-day operation ended on 20 June 1999, culminating in the retreat of Serbian forces from Kosovo and the eventual return of refugees to their homeland.

USAFE's Third Air Force led the humanitarian leg of Operation Allied Force during the air war. Headquartered at Einseidlerhof Air Station, Germany, Joint Task Force Shining Hope was established to help with the mass exodus of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. The joint US military operation supported international humanitarian relief efforts directed at Kosovo refugees in Albania and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Camp Hope, the only US-built Kosovar refugee camp, was established in Tirana, Albania, and eventually turned over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees towards the end of the campaign.

In February 2000, USAFE forces again responded to a humanitarian crisis, this time in southern Africa. Operation Atlas Response was established to airlift aid to victims of massive floods in Mozambique and other nearby South African countries. Working with international relief agencies, Joint US forces participating in the operation assisted with a variety of humanitarian-related activities, including the airlift of food and medical supplies, aerial surveillance and rescue operations in the region.

By the early 2000s, more than 35,000 active-duty, reserve and civilian employees were assigned to USAFE. Equipment assets included about 225 fighter, attack, tanker and transport aircraft, and a full complement of conventional weapons. USAFE was organized geographically at the time through 2 numbered air forces: Third Air Force, headquartered at RAF Mildenhall, England; and Sixteenth Air Force, headquartered at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The command had 14 installations, 6 of which were main operating bases: Royal Air Force Bases Lakenheath and Mildenhall in England; Ramstein and Spangdahlem Air Bases in Germany; Aviano AB in Italy, and Incirlik AB in Turkey.

As the face of Europe changed after the fall of the Berlin Wall, USAFE had changed as well. USAFE transitioned from a fight-in-place fighter force postured for a large-scale conflict, to an Air Expeditionary Force with a mobile and deployable mix of people and resources that can simultaneously operate in multiple locations. Since the end of the Cold War, USAFE's role in Europe and Africa expanded from warfighting to a mission that included supporting humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, as well as other non-traditional contingencies throughout its area of responsibility.

In peacetime, USAFE trained and equipped US Air Force units pledged to NATO. USAFE planned, conducted, controled, coordinated, and supported air and space operations to achieve US national and NATO objectives based on taskings by the commander in chief, United States European Command. In wartime, USAFE assets, augmented by people, aircraft and equipment from other major commands, and the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, came under the operational command of NATO. The command's inventory of aircraft was ready to perform close air support, air interdiction, air defense, in-flight refueling, long-range transport and support of maritime operations.

USAFE was on the front lines of the Global War on Terrorism right from the beginning on 11 September 2001. During Operation Enduring Freedom, it supported an air bridge from Europe to Asia that delivered 3,300 tons of humanitarian daily rations to northern Afghanistan, opened a base in Kyrgystan for coalition forces, and established a medical evacuation network that moved nearly 4,000 patients. USAFE deployed 24 fighter aircraft, 8 KC-135 tankers and nearly 2,400 people in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It opened an important airfield in northern Iraq and provided critical en route support to deploying forces, not to mention vital logistical and medical support to forward-deployed forces. USAFE provided an aeromedical evacuation capability that moved patients serving in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom out of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, and transported patients all over Europe. USAFE also flew combat sorties in support of Joint Task Force Liberia and Balkans operations.

During 2003, USAFE focused on several major endeavors: development of a strategy for US Air Forces in Europe for the next decade, reorganization of USAFE headquarters, the theater engagement plan, and a measurement system to track the progress. USAFE's strategic presence and unparalleled readiness were key enablers, and the thrust behind the Air Force strategy for Europe. Based on national, joint, and USAF strategies and visions, USAFE's new strategic plan centered on 4 primary principles: an ability to influence global actions; readiness; theater engagement; and an ability to retain a leadership role in NATO. USAFE efforts embodied these principles and ensured that forces were ready to meet the challenges of the future.

During 2003, the USAFE headquarters was reorganized by divesting it of those non-management headquarters functions that had been attached. In the end some 1,000 personnel / functions realigned from the strategic level to either the operational level or tactical level. USAFE also identified those functions that could be streamlined by using reach-back to CONUS services, resulting in a significant number of functions migrating back to parent commands or Headquarters, Air Force. These actions permited USAFE to more clearly focus on its mission: to provide policy, oversight, and evaluations on command units.

Following the August 2008 clash between Russia and Georgia, USAFE built an air bridge to the latter to provide humanitarian assistance. The effort was coordinated by the US State Department, US Agency for International Development, and Georgian officials. The Department of Defense was asked to support with a joint US military operation which launched with the delivery of pallets of medicine, clothing, sleeping bags, cots and other essential items.

The staff at Third Air Force headquarters at Ramstein led the contingency planning effort as the operational arm of USAFE. The first deliveries into Georgia were flown by a C-17 Globemaster crew whose cargo included 104,000 doses of antibiotics. USAFE's 1st Combat Communications Squadron sent a team to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi to provide communications support to the U.S. Embassy and to American military personnel.

USAFE averaged more than 1,500 deployed to the CENTCOM's area of responsibility in 2006. More than 3,000 were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and other overseas contingency operations. USAFE also hosted an average of 300 Air National Guard and more than 1,000 active-duty personnel to the EUCOM's area of responsibility in 2006.

In October 2008, as part of the establishment of US Africa Command (AFRICOM), Seventeenth Air Force was activated as part of USAFE. Seventeenth Air Force was also designated as US Air Forces Africa (AFAFRICA), the air component command for AFRICOM.

In 2009, President Obama announced the decision for the US to implement a "phased, adaptive" approach for missile defense in Europe using a phased implementation, adaptive to an evolving security environment. This capability used proven, cost-effective, increasingly capable sea- and land-based missile interceptors and sensors in Europe to defend against ballistic missile threat to augment current protection of the US homeland against long-range ballistic missiles and to offer more effective defenses against near-term ballistic missiles for the defense of US deployed forces, their families and European allies. Headquarters, USAFE had a leading role in the timely implementation of the "phased, adaptive" approach by organizing, training and equipping USAFE Airmen and joint forces to effectively integrate command and control of air and missile defense capabilities in support of the area air defense commander and USAFE commander.

When the UN called upon the international community for action against the Libyan regime of Momar Qaddafi in early 2011, USAFE was able to quickly drawn upon its people and resources to first provide humanitarian assistance in the early crisis. Later, USAFE, its NAFs, and several wings contributed on-hand combat forces as part of a coalition of European and other partner nations to protect the Libyan populace from the violence of the Qadhafi regime. After NATO assumed responsibility for Libya in April 2011, USAFE bases continued their support for follow-on operations.

As of January 2012, USAFE had more than 39,000 active-duty, Reserve, Air National Guard and civilian employees are assigned to USAFE. Equipment assets included about 225 fighter, attack, rotary wing, tanker, and transport aircraft, and a full complement of conventional weapons. At that time USAFE consisted of 2 Numbered Air Forces, 7 main operating bases and 114 geographically separated locations. Third Air Force supported EUCOM. It was USAFE's Component Numbered Air Force responsible for maintaining a continuous theater-wide situational awareness and providing the commander of Air Force forces there the capability to command and control assigned and attached Airmen. Seventeenth Air Force/AFAFRICA supported US Africa Command via command and control of air forces to conduct sustained security engagement and operations as directed to promote air domain safety, security and development. It operated as a functional staff, while its 617th Air and Space Operations Center oversees air operations on the continent. The USAFE main operating bases as of January 2012 were: RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom; Ramstein and Spangdahlem Air Bases in Germany; Aviano Air Base, Italy; Lajes Air Base in the Azores; and Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. These bases reported to Ramstein's Third Air Force for day-to-day and contingency operations.

On 24 April 2012, Seventeenth Air Force/AFAFRICA was inactivated and the Air Forces Africa flag and mission were passed to USAFE.

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