Just three USAF MQ-9 Reapers contributed significantly to the defeat of ISIS in its largest stronghold outside of Iraq and Syria, flying more than 60 percent of all strikes to wipe out the group in Sirte, Libya. Operation Odyssey Lightning, the four-month long fight to free the coastal city, began on Aug. 1, 2016, with the Reapers flying strikes alongside Marine Corps Harriers and Super Cobras off the USS Wasp, said Col. Case Cunningham, commander of the 432nd Wing and 432nd Air Expeditionary Wing. Special Operations Forces in operations centers worked with the Libyan Government of National Accord in the offensive helping to coordinate the 495 airstrikes that took place in the operation. Of that total, more than 60 percent came from Reapers, Cunningham said at AWS17, the first time the USAF role in the operation was publicly disclosed. Seventy percent of those airstrikes were conducted within “danger close” range of GNA forces, some just under 100 feet away, Cunningham said. The operation was “extremely precise,” with Hellfire missiles at times flying into specific windows to hit a sniper but keeping the rest of the building intact, he said. Aircrews at Creech AFB, Nev., flew the mission along with crews with the North Dakota and Tennessee Air National Guard. Some of the pilots were young lieutenants with 1,000 combat hours coming into the operation.
Update: This entry was updated on March 3, 2017, to address the role of young lieutenants in the operation.