The A-10 Thunderbolt II, or the ‘Warthog’, is the world’s premier close air support aircraft. Originally designed to thwart the flow of Soviet main battle tanks through the Fulda Gap during the expected war in western Europe, the ‘Warthog’ has evolved into the aircraft of choice for troops seeking air support. In March 2002, the A-10 initially saw combat in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and made an immediate impact. Their near constant presence over the battlefield has saved many lives and affected the outcome of numerous engagements. The A-10 became indispensable to OEF operations as Active, Reserve and Air National Guard units assigned to the USAF Air Expeditionary Force rotated through Bagram and Kandahar airfields in support of Coalition forces fighting the Taleban.
On Dec. 7, 2018 Operation Mar Kardad (Snakepit) was launched, and it subsequently became better known as the battle for Musa Qala. A town with a population of about 18,000, Musa Qala is situated in northern Helmand province. After the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from the town in late 2006, the Taleban had taken control of Musa Qala. By December of the following year it was the largest urban area under Taleban control.
As explained by Gary Wetzel in his book A-10 Thunderbolt II Units of Operation Enduring Freedom 2008-14, Mar Kardad was a British-led operation. The attack was, however, presented as the first battle in which Afghan National Army (ANA) units formed the main fighting force, as well as the lead element. However, the belief that Mar Kardad was actually led by the ANA was quickly dispelled, with ISAF troops in command of the operation. The liberating of Musa Qala was a small victory in what would be a larger battle for Helmand province, the primary focus point for ISAF operations over the next few years. As a result it became the centre of A-10 operations.
During the fight for Musa Qala, A-10 driver Capt Eric White undertook several sorties in support of ANA and ISAF forces; “[A] memorable mission commenced in the late afternoon and stretched on into the evening, during which time we were able to support two different elements. The first was a unit of US Army engineers who, while trying to build a bridge, started taking fire from a small hut in the middle of a whole string of dirt dwellings. As it was going to be a hard target to identify correctly, we fired a couple of rockets and the JTAC confirmed that our aim was accurate. We lined up and came in low at 500 ft AGL [above ground level] for a low-angle strafe. We made two passes, shooting the gun from a range of between 4000 and 5000 ft. Minutes later, ground forces passed along some “intel” that indicated that the enemy inside the hut were still communicating with outside elements. We simply climbed up to 15,000 ft, put our flight in the right position and dropped a 500 lb GBU-38 JDAM on the hut to stop its occupants from communicating with fellow Taleban. And they did. We then dropped back down and performed a show-
of-force flyby for those guys on the ground — it was more to get them rallied back up.
“Shortly thereafter we received new tasking that saw us head off to central Afghanistan. The sun had gone down by the time we checked in with the convoy that needed our protection. It consisted of two ANA vehicles up front, a few SOF vehicles in the middle and two more ANA vehicles trailing. As we were watching over them and scouting the road ahead, we found three vehicles on the same road about three to four miles away. There was only one road in the area, and they were sitting there on it. All of a sudden, two took off in different directions and the third sped off down the road towards the convoy. It got to within a mile of the convoy, stopped, turned around and then raced away in the direction it had come from.
“We could see that there was a guy in the back of the vehicle ahead of the convoy throwing out mines. Imagine a guy squatting in the back of a truck, throwing out tyres. It was the same motion, only he was throwing out mines. As we watched he threw out a third mine. We were relaying all this information to the ground commander. They pretty quickly confirmed the targets as hostile and cleared us to engage. We strafed the truck and it went flying off the road. Two guys got out and started running. We got one of them on our next pass but lost the other individual. We then hit the vehicle again with 30 mm rounds and went back and dropped a JDAM on one of the mines — we strafed another one. The ground forces engaged the closest mine with a Mk 19 grenade launcher and blew that up as well.
“With the mines dealt with, my wingman and I went to “yo-yo Ups” — he went to the tanker while I stayed overhead, making sure nothing else came the convoy’s way. While he was on the tanker and I was looking somewhere else, the mines and other explosives on the truck we had strafed cooked off. The explosion lit up the entire valley, allowing me to see a gigantic smoke ring rising from the wreckage of the truck. My first thought was that the convoy had been hit, but fortunately that wasn’t the case. When the ground forces reached the area where the truck had exploded, biggest piece they could find was an axle. The thing was obliterated, who knows how much ordnance had been on it? The funny thing was that while my wingman was on the boom, all this happened at his ‘six o’clock’, prompting the boom operator to ask him, ‘Holy cow, what was that?'”
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christina D. Ponte and Teddy Techer
A-10 Thunderbolt II Units of Operation Enduring Freedom 2008-14 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com
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