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United States Air Forces Central is the air component of United States Central Command, a regional unified command. USAFCENT is responsible for air operations, either unilaterally or in concert with coalition partners, and developing contingency plans in support of national objectives for USCENTCOM's 20-nation area of responsibility in Southwest Asia. Additionally, USAFCENT manages an extensive supply and equipment prepositioning program at several Area of Responsibility sites.
In 1979, following the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by Iranian militants and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, the United States established a Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, later known as the Rapid Deployment Force. In January 1980, 9th Air Force officially assumed the mantle of providing the U.S. Air Force component to the new command. 9th Air Force now wore two hats – one as 9th Air Force and one as the Rapid Deployment Air Force Forces - the air arm for the RDJTF. The task force was the U.S. military's first four-service rapid reaction force headquarters to be formed in peacetime. The task force was inactivated Dec. 31, 1982. The following day, USCENTCOM was activated and 9th AF was selected as U.S. Central Command Air Forces.
In August 1990, USCENTAF was put to the test in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. USCENTAF was credited with masterminding the brilliant air campaign during Operation Desert Storm. During the war, the Air Force was considered a key factor in destroying the world's sixth largest air force and decimating the fourth largest army with minimal loss of life on both Allied and Iraqi sides. Throughout the campaign, USCENTAF aircraft flew a total of 29,393 sorties, dropped 60,624 tons of ordnance and destroyed 215 enemy aircraft.
During the remainder of 1991, most USCENTAF units redeployed to the U.S. while a residual force under the 4404th Wing (Provisional) remained in Saudi Arabia. USCENTAF deployed again Aug. 12, 1992. This time, it established a temporary task force known as Joint Task Force-Southwest Asia, which remained in place enforcing the "no fly" zone over Iraq south of the 32nd parallel. This operation became known as Operation Southern Watch.
In October 1994, Saddam Hussein again massed troops along the Kuwaiti border and USCENTAF responded with Operation Vigilant Warrior and deployed additional Airmen to the area. When the crisis ended in December 1994, many troops and aircraft remained in position to continue their watch.
As the Air Force downsized, USCENTAF often found itself and its units busy supporting contingencies in the Middle East such as Vigilant Sentinel (August - September 1995), Desert Strike (August - October 1996), Desert Thunder I (November 1997 - June 1998), Desert Thunder II (August - December 1998) and Desert Fox (December 1998), in addition to supporting humanitarian missions such as Operations Provide Relief and Restore Hope in Somalia.
Since 2001, the USCENTAF has supported Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. In 2003, Operation Southern Watch gave way to Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. The Airmen deployed in support of these missions conduct traditional missions of close air support; air refueling; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; airlift; distinguished visitor escort; training, and sitting alert. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom used airpower, and Airmen, in more nontraditional ways such as in the area of convoys; protecting Iraq's infrastructure of power lines, railroads, and oil pipelines; capturing high value targets and humanitarian efforts in rebuilding bridges, roads and schools.
USCENTAF took on a new name, U.S. Air Forces Central Command, in a ceremony March 3, 2008, at Shaw AFB, as well as an enhanced way of employing forces in war.
The ceremony also included the inactivation of the 609th Air Intelligence Group, Air Intelligence Squadron, Combat Operations Squadron, Combat Plans Squadron, Air Support Squadron and the Information Operations Flight; as well as the redesignation and assumption of command of the 609th Air Operations Group to the 609th Air Operations Center, which forms the core of the Combined Air and Space Operations Center and the Detachment 1, 609th Air Operations Center; and the activation and assumption of command of Detachment 5, U.S. Air Forces Central.
Reflecting its mission statement "to project decisive air and space power for United States Central Command and America," at its peak, USAFCENT had beddown locations in the AOR as follows: Kirkuk AB, Balad AB, Baghdad International Airport, and Ali AB in Iraq. Bagram and Kandahar Airfields in Afghanistan and other bases in Southwest Asia remain active.
In May 2009, the decision to split the 9th Air Force Organize, Train and Equip mission and the USAFCENT warfighter mission into two headquarters was made. The U.S. Air Force redsignated the 9th Air Force as USAFCENT and activated a new 9th Air Force, making the two organizations distinct and separate entities.
In December 2011, the final manned flight of Operation Iraqi Freedom departed Iraqi airspace. In August 2014, USAFCENT conducted airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorists in northern Iraq, in what was named Operation Inherent Resolve in October 2014.
In December 2014, the Transition I phase of the Afghanistan campaign closed as U.S. combat forces downgraded, ending Operation Enduring Freedom. The combat mission of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force also ended this day. In January 2015, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel began, replacing Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as the U.S. mission transitioned to training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces. NATO’s follow-on mission to ISAF, called Resolute Support, also commenced on this day as the coalition effort to train, advise, and assist the Afghan military.
The USAFCENT organization provides a unique dual mission for its Airmen -- training of its combat units while working closely with its counterparts in Southwest Asia to ensure the stability of the region. Whether serving in a combat or humanitarian role, USAFCENT is an integral part of the nation's airpower in joint and combined military and humanitarian operations.
USAFCENT Area of Responsibility
Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Yemen.