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Airmen help bring gift of freedom to Afghans

by Capt. Michael Meridith
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

12/19/2007 - BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- Airmen of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing recently helped give the gift of freedom to the citizens of the Afghan village of Musa Qalah. 

Afghan national security forces, backed by coalition forces, were able to defeat the Taliban insurgents that had controlled the town since February and freed its citizens from the enemy's control. 

That Dec. 12 victory was in no small part due to airpower, which kept ground forces supplied and provided critical close-air support during the seven-day fight. 

With the Taliban using civilian homes to stockpile weapons, including suicide vests and improvised explosive device-making materials, F-15E Strike Eagle and A-10 Thunderbolt II crews from the 336th and 172nd Expeditionary Fighter squadrons from Bagram Air Base were careful in how they employed airpower in support of the battle. 

"It was a very methodical, step-by-step operation," said Maj. Tim Welde, an F-15E weapons system officer with the 336th EFS. "The Taliban would love nothing more than to show footage of women and children hurt or killed in an airstrike. Regardless of their tactics, we only employ the level of force we need to meet the ground commander's intent while avoiding civilian casualties." 

Through the careful use of precision munitions and intimidating "shows of force" (low-level passes that demonstrate an aircraft's power without the use of weapons), American fighter crews were able to foil the Taliban's attempts to create an information victory through civilian casualties, where they could not win one through force of arms. 

"I did a few shows of force, and they seemed to have a real impact on the enemy's decision-making as to whether they would continue to fight with our ground forces or throw up their hands," said Maj. Shawn Holtz, an A-10 pilot with the 172nd EFS. 

Precision wasn't just a concern for fighter aircraft. C-130 Hercules aircraft
kept ground forces supplied, safely dropping about 180,000 pounds of food and other supplies over the course of the operation -- often near congested areas. 

"Fundamentally, it came down to our people, their experience and their attitude," said Maj. John Owens, who operated the precision airdrop systems used by the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron's C-130s during several missions in support of the operation. "Day or night, they were motivated to get the job done right." 

The surge in airpower to support the ANSF advances was made possible by a corresponding surge amongst the aircraft maintainers. 

"We knew we would be supporting a major operation, so we prepositioned ourselves to ensure we had the resources and manning ready," said Capt. Rodney
Stevens, the 336th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge.

Not a single F-15E sortie was missed, despite a significant increase in flying hours, Captain Stevens said. 

That kind of success is a direct result of the attitude of the Airmen launching the fighters, said Capt. Kevin Toll, who led maintenance operations for the A-10s during the operation. 

"It made people move faster and with a tremendous sense of purpose," Capt. Toll said. "Their morale was high at being part of something like this." 

With the Afghan national flag once again flying over the village, 455th AEW Airmen brought freedom back to the people of Musa Qalah. 

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