ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 11, 2014) Lt. Cmdr. Wes Smith serves as a shooter as he launches an F/A-18C Hornet from the Mighty Shrikes of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 94 on the flight deck aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Carl Vinson is deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, strike operations in Iraq and Syria as directed, maritime security operations, and theater security cooperation efforts in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Fenaroli/Released)
Dec 16, 2014 Eric Schmitt - timesofindia.indiatimes.com
ABOARD THE U.S.S. CARL VINSON, in the Persian Gulf: More than a dozen Navy F/A-18 warplanes roar off this aircraft carrier every day to attack Islamic State targets in support of Iraqi troops battling to regain ground lost to the militants in June.
These Navy pilots face an array of lethal risks during their six-hour round-trip missions. Surface-to-air missiles and other enemy fire lurk below, as the downing of an Iraqi military helicopter late Friday underscored. About 60 percent of the aircrews are still learning the ropes on their first combat tours.
The United States-led coalition improvises how the Iraqis call in airstrikes: Iraqi troops talk by radio to American controllers at Iraqi command centers, who in turn talk to the Navy pilots to help pinpoint what to hit. Senior commanders have said that placing American spotters with the Iraqi troops would be more effective, but they have yet to recommend that step knowing that President Obama opposes it.
But in recent days, the Iraqis have been advancing, forcing ISIS to fight more in the open. The airstrikes are severing the militants' supply lines, killing some top leaders and crimping their ability to pump and ship the oil that they control.
"It wasn't going so well there for a while, but the momentum seems to have reversed," said Cmdr. Eric Doyle, a 41-year-old F/A-18 Hornet pilot from Houston who also flew combat missions in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.