The U.S. Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft has taken part in a “devastating” raid against the Islamic State group in northwestern Syria, while supporting a group of U.S.-backed Syrian-Arab fighters on the ground, according to a statement from a Pentagon Spokesperson Wednesday. The A-10, which has been the target of proposed defense budget cuts over the last four years, was joined by an AC-130 Spectre gunship as it helped take the town of al-Hawl and around 250 square kilometers of surrounding area, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.
"We were able to bring both the A-10s and the Spectre gunship to bear in a devastating manner" to aid in the assault on al-Hawl, Warren said, according to a Military.com report.
The slow and low flying A-10, featuring a 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling-type cannon, began its life more than 40 years ago, but is still considered by ground troops as the best close air support weapon in the Air Force inventory. Over the last four years, the Air Force has tried hard to retire the A-10s but its supporters in Congress have continued to provide funding and did so again in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.
Warren described how support from the A-10s and AC-130s allowed more than 1,000 Syrian-Arab fighters to overcome a force of several hundred ISIS members. The advancing coalition troops reportedly killed 79 fighters from the terror group.
"The Syrian Arab Coalition showed us valor," he said. "They showed us something here, and we're pleased with that."
The A-10s used in the attack on the town are among about a dozen that recently deployed to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. They will be joined in the coming weeks by F-15 fighter jets, although it’s not yet known what role the F-15s will have as they are predominately used for air-to-air combat. ISIS has no air assets.