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Harriers from USS Boxer begin airstrikes against Islamic State

By CHRIS CHURCH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 17, 2016

ABOARD THE USS BOXER—The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit began airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria Thursday from the amphibious assault ship, USS Boxer, highlighting the flexibility of U.S. Naval operations around the world.

The air campaign marks the first time the U.S. Navy has used ship-based aircraft from both the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf at the same time during Operation Inherent Resolve.

Coordinating these missions shows that the Navy has the ability to strike at any time and place of its choosing, Amphibious Squadron One Commodore Capt. Keith Moore said.

The 13th MEU’s AV-8BII Harriers left the flight deck of the Boxer carrying the maximum payload of ordnance for sorties against the Islamic State group over Iraq.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Harry S. Truman began launching airstrikes against the Islamic State from the Eastern Mediterranean. It was the first time the Navy had targeted the Islamic State from there.

The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit commanding officer, Col. Anthony M. Henderson, said the operations from the Truman and the Boxer would be effective “countering ISIL’s operations and supporting the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government as they are trying to reclaim and push back ISIL from the areas of operation you are familiar with, in Fallujah, Mosul, and other places.” He used an acronym for the Islamic State group.

While amphibious assault ships, like the Boxer, cannot conduct as many airstrike sorties as an aircraft carrier — the 13th MEU deployed with six Harriers — it brings other unique capabilities to the theater.

An amphibious ready group and Marine expeditionary unit can support a variety of contingencies within a theater of operations, Henderson said, including airstrikes, embassy reinforcement, humanitarian assistance and maritime security operations among other capabilities.

The Boxer’s amphibious ready group and the embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit comprise 4,500 sailors and Marines on three ships — the Boxer, the USS New Orleans and USS Harpers Ferry. Currently each of the three ships is in a different part of the 5th Fleet area of operations, which covers some 2.5 million square miles, including the conflict-prone Persian Gulf.

Twitter: @CChurchStripes

A Marine Expeditionary Unit AV-8BII Harrier launches from the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer on Thursday, June 16, 2016, targeting Islamic State group militants.