Less discussion of details of the pending deployment is a trend that appears in line with other National Guard units traveling to combat the Islamic State militant group.
On Monday, the Idaho Air National Guard announced that more than 500 members of the 124th Fighter Wing based at Gowen Field will depart for the Middle East this spring and summer as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. It will be the Idaho Air Guard’s first major deployment in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State.
“The nature of the threat is different than we’ve seen in the past so we’re handling what information is releasable in a different way,” spokesman Maj. Chris Borders said Tuesday. “There is a fine line between keeping the community informed because they have a right to know, a need to know and violating operation security. It’s a balance.”
The deployment will include several of the Air Guard’s A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, the fighter jet that has been used extensively against the militants since last fall. Guardsmen headed overseas include pilots and maintenance crews for the A-10s, security officers, medical personnel and support staff.
The announcement came a few days after President Barack Obama directed his national security team to continue the escalation of action against the Islamic State.
“We remain relentless in going after them,” Obama said, noting that ISIS has lost more than 40 percent of the area it once controlled in Iraq, including several key cities.
Both this state’s Air and Army National Guard have seen multiple large deployments for U.S. military actions in the Middle East since 9/11.
Unlike in the past, the Air National Guard will not make its members available for media interviews before the fighter wing leaves for an undisclosed location. Heightened security makes this a “different environment this go-round,” than in the past, Borders said.
“We’re not putting service members up in front of the camera at this point for interviews to talk about the mission or how they’re leaving their families behind,” Borders said. “If things should relax closer to deployment time, I’d be happy to share it, but I don’t see that happening.”
Borders also declined to say in more detail what local Guardsmen will be doing. But since November, U.S. A-10s have flown more than 3,500 sorties against Islamic State forces, said Capt. Michael Meyer, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, according to the Baltimore Sun. The U.S. and partner nations have targeted fighting positions, buildings, staging areas and tanks and other insurgent vehicles.
Since August 2014, the U.S. has spent $6.2 billion on actions against the Islamic State, a daily cost of $11.5 million.
The A-10 has “been devastating ISIL from the air” in Syria and Iraq, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last week, using another acronym for the militants.
The remarks came as Carter announced the A-10 will continue flying through at least 2022, a departure after three years of attempts by the Pentagon to retire the fleet of 283 planes.
Last week, the Maryland Air National Guard, which also flies the A-10, affectionately known as the Warthog, announced it would be sending A-10 crews this fall to fly over Syria. Officials would not say, however, how many guardsmen will be deployed.
Two hundred Air Guard members from Alaska and Ohio were sent to the Middle East last week. Both groups fly C-130 cargo and personnel transport planes. They followed 50 members of the Hawaii Air National Guard who work on KC-135 Stratotankers that provide in-flight refueling of other aircraft.
A-10s deployed following the Vietnam War
Between 1975 and 1984, 716 A-10s were produced by manufacturer Fairchild Republic. The plane was designed to destroy Soviet tanks in Europe, where it was known as the Tankbuster.
The plane is equipped with a nose-mounted 30 mm cannon that fires 65 armor-piercing rounds per second. It can also drop 250-pound bombs and launch missiles and small rockets. Its electronics can jam incoming missile signals.
The single-seat A-10 is praised for its ability to fly at low speed and low altitude while maintaining maneuverability. It can also take off and land at short distances.
Reinforced with layers of armor and a cockpit surrounded by a titanium tub, the A-10 is known for its durability and for being able to continue flying even after being shot up.