By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
The coalition air component in Iraq "remains strong," airlifting supplies and troops, providing surveillance and assisting ground forces with kinetic support, a senior air force officer in Iraq said today. During a news conference with reporters in Baghdad, Air Force Maj. Gen. David M. Edgington, director of Multinational Force Iraq's Air Component Coordination Element, referred to air lift forces as "the backbone of the air component."
"The number of pallets that we bring into this country keep at least 100 vehicles off the roads every day that would otherwise be delivered via convoys," he said. "This keeps the risk to the coalition forces down by avoiding those trucks being on the road."
The air lift component is also responsible for transporting some 3,500 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines into theater per day. Edgington said air forces delivered 5,500 troops in one day last month, the highest number since Operation Iraqi Freedom began.
The general said air lift forces play a vital role by providing medical evacuations of injured servicemembers, calling their success rate "very noteworthy."
"For any of the injured troops – coalition troops, Iraqi security forces as well as civilians – if we can get them to a regional cache within one hour, we have a 98 percent survival rate," he said, noting that the high survival rate is also a credit to coalition medics.
The 24-hour-a-day requirements placed on the air component creates significant demand for fuel. Aircraft involved in operations over Iraq and Afghanistan use an average of 3.5 million gallons of gas per day, Edgington said.
Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are essential operations provided by the air component. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, placed greater demand on surveillance when he requested the U.S. Air Force to accelerate its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV, capability. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates approved the request.
"The United States Air Force has accelerated by one year with the deployment of several Predator (UAV) systems," Edgington said. "In fact, this week we are increasing our capability of the Predators overhead in Iraq in support of the mission here."
In terms of kinetic support, the air component has maintained a "robust presence" throughout the troop surge, synchronizing air and land efforts, the general said.
Compared to previous years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the air component this year has dropped four times the number of munitions. This month, however, Edgington said there has been a marked decline. The general said the decreased need for air support suggests improved conditions on the ground.
"The security system is such that we are noticing that from the air as well. We are having less calls for kinetic operations," he said. "We're still there, we're still available to do that as necessary as called for by the ground commander, but there is a significant reduction in the number of weapons that have been called for."