Air Force transports have airlifted more than two million pounds of cargo from Istres, France, to Bamako, Mali, and other places since Jan. 21 in support of French military operations in northern Mali, announced service officials. Meanwhile, Air Force KC-135 tankers, staging from southern Europe since Jan. 27, have offloaded more than one million pounds of fuel to French fighters conducting operations over Mali, they said. The airlift milestone came on Feb. 12 during the 43rd mission from Istres, while the tankers hit their mark four days later, according to releases on Feb. 15 and Feb. 16. “This operation has been extremely rewarding, supporting our French partner’s efforts to promote stability in Mali,” said Lt. Col. Shawn Underwood, 621st Contingency Response Element commander, who’s been supporting the C-17s operating at Istres. “This is a massive refueling effort from a small group of dedicated airmen,” said Lt. Col. Heather Baldwin, commander of the 351st Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, the forward-deployed tanker unit from RAF Mildenhall, England, supporting the French. (Istres report by 1st Lt. Sara Harper) (Mildenhall report by Capt. Jason Smith) (See also Mali Air Bridge Continues.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.