C-17 from Charleston part of Iraq humanitarian drop

A C-17 Globemaster III from Charleston Air Force Base.

The Air Force C-17 cargo jet that took part in Thursday's humanitarian airdrop in Iraq is from the Charleston Air Force Base, and if the mission continues - as is expected - local service crews could operate under heightened attention to the well-armed Islamic militants who control much of the country.

The Pentagon and Joint Base Charleston confirmed to The Post and Courier that one of three cargo planes that flew the mission came from Charleston, though it was deployed from an unidentified forward base overseas.

The Charleston plane, one of more than 50 C-17s assigned here, is part of the workhorse fleet used during the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can operate with a crew as small as three: a pilot, co-pilot and loadmaster.

The individual crew members taking part were not identified.

"Yes, it was a Charleston crew and they executed the mission very well," said Col. John Lamontagne, 437th Airlift Wing commander, in a statement Friday.

"We've received lots of positive feedback and while we expect this performance from our crews, we are still very proud of their professionalism, dedication, and expertise."

According to the Pentagon, the C-17, along with two other C-130 cargo planes, delivered 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water. The drop went to thousands of trapped civilians from the Yazidi sect, who have been targeted by the Islamic State army. Also released were 8,000 pre-packaged meals.

The planes were over the drop area for less than 15 minutes at low altitude, according the Department of Defense's description. Two F/A-18 fighters escorted. "The supply mission did not require any U.S. ground forces," the Pentagon said.

While the mission went off without incident, the amount and the types of seized weaponry believed held by the ISIS militants in Iraq is considered to be significant in quantity and in potential threat. Among the anti-aircraft weapons identified in media reports is the ZU-23-2 Soviet type anti-aircraft autocannon. It has been in production since 1960 and fires 23 mm rounds at a rate of 400 rounds per minute, according to a recent Business Insider-tabulated list of weapons at ISIS' disposal last month. It has a range of up to 2 miles.

Also looted by ISIS is the FIM-92 Stinger, a shoulder-fired homing surface-to-air missile originally designed by the U.S., the news group lists.

But even with the seized resources, Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, which follows U.S. military capabilities, said he doubted the Air Force would send a C-17 into any vulnerable situation where there was "high risk or even moderate risk."

"I don't think the risk is that high at all," he said.

Thursday's mission came as President Obama announced earlier that he'd authorized the Pentagon to launch targeted air strikes on sites in Iraq to protect Americans. Obama additionally said that assisting the Yazidis, an ancient religion tied to Zoroastrianism, came under the U.S. mandate to assist those in danger in places where American forces have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre.

Thousands of members of the sect are believed to be trapped after being forced from their homes after the group Islamic State issued an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay a religious fine or face death.

C-17s from Charleston have performed all sorts of duties in Iraq, Afghanistan and all over Southwest Asia, delivering supplies, personnel and performing other duties. They also have responded to disaster areas around the globe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.