A C-17 air transport based in Charleston was among three U.S. aircraft that dropped supplies Thursday to Iraqi refugees trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq, the Pentagon confirmed Friday.
The S.C.-based plane dropped fresh drinking water to the refugees, including Christians and ethnic Yazidis, who had fled advancing forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, terror group.
The U.S. planes, two C-130 transports and the C-17, flew over the area for less than 15 minutes at a low altitude, dropping 5,300 gallons of water and 8,000 meals ready to eat.
The transport planes were escorted by F/A-18 fighters from the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.
‘Be very careful’
Meanwhile, South Carolina veterans of the Iraq war and the state’s congressional delegation sounded off Friday on America’s return to combat in Iraq, three years after U.S. combat forces withdrew from Iraq.
“It’s worth doing, absolutely,” retired Air Force Lt. Col. Ben Bradley of Sumter said Friday of the latest U.S. intervention. “But I think we have to be very careful how far we get involved.
“I would not describe myself as war weary, but I don’t think we should be going headlong into things,” said the former pilot, who flew 50 missions over Iraq enforcing the no-fly zone before the Iraq War began in 2004.
Bradley, 43, said he empathizes with those fleeing ISIS forces and is not surprised the U.S. is back militarily in Iraq. But strategically, “for these things, you really have to look at what kind of an outcome can you effect?”
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. William “Dutch” Holland said U.S. soldiers are as skilled in relief efforts as they are in combat.
Holland, who held command positions in the Middle East and at Sumter’s Shaw Air Force Base between 2006 and 2010, said there is a close link between relief and combat missions.
“If aircraft that are delivering aid get into trouble, you have to be ready to support them,” said the now-director of the Shaw Sumter Partnership for Progress.
Members of South Carolina’s congressional delegation said they supported the president’s decision to launch airstrikes and provide humanitarian aid.
But the GOP-majority delegation also criticized Barack Obama, saying he lacks a long-term strategic plan for the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
On CNN Thursday night, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, said he wanted airstrikes to begin “like yesterday.”
ISIS is a direct threat to the stability in the region, Graham said in the interview.
Graham said he and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said three years ago that the United States had to deal with the Syrian civil war – which the ISIS terrorists used as launching pad for their invasion of Iraq – because that country’s instability consumed the whole region.
“So this thing has spread throughout the region,” Graham said. “Airstrikes in Iraq that are not followed up by airstrikes in Syria are not going to get to the root cause of the problem.”