The Israel Air Force’s Airborne Combat, Search and Rescue Unit 669 held its first international rescue exercise ever, hosting elite units from six foreign countries in the largest rescue exercise ever held in the country. Dubbed “Sky Angels,” the two-week exercise was held from November 4 to 15, and brought units from the IAF and ground forces as well as units from the United States, Italy, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Canada and the Netherlands to participate and observe the drill.
The drill took place at 669’s training facility at the Palmahim air base as well as in various locations in the north and south of the country. Led by the IAF’s elite special units, various air force squadrons took part in the drill, including the IAF’s 118 Night Riders Squadron. “This drill was a strategically important exercise,” a senior air force officer said Tuesday, explaining that the different languages and mentalities allowed the participants to see different perspectives in combat rescue operations. According to the military, the drill consisted of defensive and offensive combat rescue operations, including multi-casualty events, extracting pilots who had ejected from their aircrafts, and rescues from canyons, deserts, forests and urban centers. “International cooperation enables training with armies that deal with combat extractions, [and] that deal with and investigate scenarios in a different manner. [It] contributes to the challenges and learning of all sides, and increases mutual understanding between the armies,” the military said.
According to a senior officer in the air force, troops in 669 were able to share their perspectives and experiences from both combat operations as well as rescuing civilians. With several participants in Sky Angels being NATO members, troops from 669 were also able to learn NATO protocols for search-and-rescue operations. “At the end of the day, there is no other unit in Israel like 669,” the officer said, adding that “669 is on alert 24/7, ready to jump to any rescue operations within a few minutes, at all times, in all scenarios.” The senior officer told reporters that during the time of the drills troops from 669 also took part in the rescue operation to extract a group of commando soldiers who were engaged in a firefight with Hamas terrorists in the southern Gazan city of Khan Yunis, which left one officer dead. The IAF’s elite 669 is one of the four special forces of the IDF which has rescued over 10,000 people across Israel and the world. Formed in 1974 following the Yom Kippur War, the IAF’s elite 669 is one of the four special forces of the IDF with troops trained in combat medicine, parachuting, scuba diving, counterterrorism, rappelling, rescue under harsh conditions, and navigation. Initially charged with extracting Israeli pilots who were shot down in enemy territory, they later began undertaking rescue missions for special forces soldiers as well as injured or stranded Israelis, both at home and abroad. In the four decades since its founding, the unit has received several IDF chief of staff commendations for its work.