But apparently, that description of our support mission wasn't quite accurate (what a surprise). Turns out that U.S. fighters have flown hundreds of missions over Libya since the hand-off to NATO. Many of those sorties have been conducted by Navy EA-18 "Growlers" and F-16CJs, which provide suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD).
As anyone with a cursory knowledge of air ops will tell you, SEAD involves much more than stand-off jamming; assets like the Growler and the F-16CJ are embedded into most strike packages operating in hostile airspace, and those platforms employ ordnance (usually anti-radiation missiles) against ground-based air defenses.
More from Air Force Times:
“U.S. aircraft continue to fly support [ISR and refueling] missions, as well as strike sorties under NATO tasking,” AFRICOM spokeswoman Nicole Dalrymple said in an emailed statement. “As of today, and since 31 March, the U.S. has flown a total of 3,475 sorties in support of OUP. Of those, 801 were strike sorties, 132 of which actually dropped ordnance.
Obviously, that doesn't exactly square with the administration's carefully crafted images of a support role. The comments of the President (and senior officials) suggested that our air mission was largely limited to the in-flight refueling of other NATO aircraft, along with intel support from platforms like the RC-135 Rivet Joint and Predator drones.
Lumping SEAD support in the same category is bit more difficult. True, aircraft like the EA-18 and the F-16CJ can perform some of their duties in a stand-off role, but they typically operate as part of a strike package, often leading the charge into hostile airspace and firing anti-radiation missiles to suppress or destroy enemy air defenses. Sounds like a combat mission to us.
And, the administration's narrative took another hit before the disclosure about our SEAD aircraft. Earlier this month, both the Washington Post and The New York Times reported that military members were receiving imminent danger pay for duties performed in Libyan airspace, or the waters off that nation's coastline. Perhaps someone should ask if the Growler and CJ pilots are receiving hostile fire pay for their flights over Libya, since their targets sometimes shoot back.
Presidents and their military commanders are entitled to a certain degree of discretion in conducting operations, but the taxpayers (and Congress) also deserve a fair measure of transparency. That quality has been notably absent in Mr. Obama's explanation of our objectives in Libya, and how our armed forces are carrying out their mission. All the more reason for Congress to demand answers--and for the administration to come clean, once and for all.
ADDENDUM: It's worth noting that our combat missions in Libya may go beyond SEAD. Air Force Times reports that F-15E Strike Eagle crews at this year's Paris Air Show refused to discuss their activities in Libya, saying they couldn't talk about current operations. You don't need to be an air power expert to know that the Strike Eagle isn't a true SEAD platform. But it's very useful in dropping precision weapons--like those employed against Qadaffi's compound. We're not saying that American warplanes have been flying missions that targeted the Libyan leader. But don't discount that possibility, either.