The US-led joint task force against the Islamic State (IS) group held a series of live fire exercises in Iraq and Syria throughout the beginning of May.
The Combined Joint Task Force—Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) was established in 2014 by the US Department of Defense with the goal of dismantling IS. At its height, IS controlled about 42,000 square miles of territory across Iraq and Syria. By 2019, CJTF-OIR had reclaimed nearly all that land. The US recently announced CJTF-OIR’s transition to an advisory role in the region with the mission of securing “the lasting defeat of ISIS.”
Exercises in Syria and Iraq
The task force does not release military exercise dates ahead of time for security reasons, but daily announcements since May 1 have described “ground and aerial operational exercises” held in different areas of operations meant to “validate weapons systems and maintain crew proficiency and readiness.”
The exercises have taken place in the Erbil, Khalidiya, and Mosul regions of Iraq and in the al-Tanf and Deir ez-Zor regions of Syria.
Al-Tanf, located in southeastern Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, is home to an American military outpost. CJTF-OIR troops also operate out of the Deir ez-Zor region in eastern Syria. Bases in both locations receive regular attacks, which are rarely answered.
Khalidiya is located along the banks of the Euphrates in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, which was the site of several of the Iraq war’s bloodiest battles. Erbil, nearly 200 miles north of Baghdad, is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Mosul, also located in northern Iraq, is the country’s largest city after the capital.
Live fire exercises are routine for military personnel who serve in frontline combat units.
Exercises on two weeks out of the month
Kelan Carnahan, a tactics expert who served with the US Marine Corps’ elite anti-terrorism unit, told The Media Line that a typical Marine Corps infantry unit might spend two weeks every month in live fire exercises.
A former US government official who declined to be named told The Media Line that successfully arranging a live fire exercise in a foreign country is “no easy task,” especially with foreign troops.
The May 1 CJTF-OIR press release noted that “extensive planning and proper safety measures are taken before and during live fire rehearsals in order to protect the Coalition and the local population.”
Government officials who spoke to The Media Line declined to comment on the weapons systems used in the exercises. Since May’s live fire exercises came just weeks after a War Zone report about refitted A-10 Thunderbolt II planes being deployed for CJTF-OIR use, some suspect that those are the planes being used.
The War Zone reported that the planes, better known as A-10 Warthogs, were refitted to carry precision-guided small-diameter bombs.
The A-10 Warthog is a jet designed for close air support missions. In use since 1972, the plane is also called “the tank buster.” The plane’s Avenger Gatling gun is capable of shooting 3,900 rounds of depleted uranium shells every minute.
The bombs used by the refitted Warthogs, GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs, have a range of over 60 nautical miles. The refitted Warthogs can carry up to 16 of the 250-pound “bunker buster” bombs.
The process of refitting CJTF-OIR planes is meant to reduce the number of civilian casualties caused by “dumb bombs,” bombs that lack guidance systems such as GPS. According to the manufacturer, the precision-guided bombs “allow today’s warfighters to surgically prosecute more targets per sortie.”