F-35 conducts first strikes in Iraq but not, as Air Force says,...

F-35 conducts first strikes in Iraq but not, as Air Force says, the first combat strikes ever

F-35 fighter being refueled over Iraq in April (DoD photo)

WASHINGTON — The F-35 jet, deployed earlier this month to the Middle East, struck an entrenched ISIS tunnel network and weapons cache deep in the Hamrin Mountains in Iraq on Tuesday, military officials said.

“We have the ability to gather, fuse and pass so much information, that we make every friendly aircraft more survivable and lethal,” Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th Fighter Squadron commander and F-35 pilot, said in a news release. “That, combined with low-observable technology, allows us to really complement any combined force package and be ready to support AOR [area of responsibility] contingencies.”

The F-35 were deployed to the region in mid-April, flying from Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

The news release, sent by U.S. Air Force Central Command, said the mission was the F-35’s “ first combat employment.”

However, it was not. That occurred on Sept. 27, 2018, when the $110 million stealthy F-35 was sent from an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea to destroy a mined weapons cache used by the Taliban in Afghanistan that ground forces were unable to clear.

That mission — technically — was the combat debut of the F-35 by U.S. forces. However, according to news reports, Israel used its F-35 fighters in two airstrikes somewhere in the Middle East last May.

The Air Force distinction is that its version if the F-35A. The September 2018 strike was carried out by the Marine Corps’ version of the fighter, the F-35B.

Morris said the F-35 personnel are “excited to be here,” praising the plane for its modern capabilities.

“This jet is smarter, a lot smarter, and so it can do more, and it helps you out more when loading munitions,” Staff Sgt. Karl Tesch, a weapons technician, said in the release.

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