The USAF air refueling mission to support French counter-terrorism operations in Mali is entering its eighth year, with KC-135s offloading more than six million pounds refueling French aircraft.
The 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom, is now the sole unit deploying to support the mission, called Operation Juniper Micron. KC-135s and Airmen deploy to Morón Air Base, Spain, to fly the missions to refuel French aircraft.
From February 2020 to February 2021, the KC-135s from the 351st Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron flew 204 sorties, totaling 1,800 hours, according to a Mildenhall release.
“French combat aircraft are dependent on in-flight refueling to accomplish their mission,” said Master Sgt. R. Chris King, 351st Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron superintendent, in a release. “French air assets originate a considerable distance from their working area and burn a large amount of their fuel just to reach the area. Providing the ‘gas station in the sky’ greatly enhances on-station capability and operational productivity of those assets.”
KC-135s regularly fly under 10 hour missions to Mali and other areas in North Africa, according to the release. The 351st EARS consists of two KC-135s and more than 50 Airmen.
The French mission, called Operation Serval, began in late 2012 after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution and the Mali government requested help to rid the country of Islamic militants. The French government has recently pressed the U.S. to continue providing assistance, while the Pentagon reviews its global force structure.
In January 2020, during a visit to the Pentagon, French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly said, “The U.S. support is critical to our operation. Any reduction would limit our effectiveness against terrorists.”