C-17 flights go on to Iraq and Ebola-zone as Afghanistan winds down

A flightline airman readies this Charleston-based C17 for a mission from Charleston Air Force Base.

Loaded C-17 cargo flights from Charleston Air Force Base have continued to land in Iraq and the West African Ebola zone — two areas of the globe featured prominently by news out of the White House this week.

Meanwhile, the frequency of trips to Afghanistan have been curtailed, base officials report, as the military mission there continues to wind down.

Flight counts released by Joint Base Charleston show that since September, the 437th and the 315th Airlift Wings have flown a combined 150 missions into Iraq.

That includes moving approximately 664 tons of cargo designated for the U.S. Embassy and to military personnel. The most recent Charleston mission into Iraq was Tuesday.

The number of flights into West Africa that were ordered in as part of “Operation United Assistance” — the umbrella name given to the Africa Ebola zone relief effort — has totaled 37 Charleston-based flights since fall, the base said.

Charleston planes have moved approximately 50 tons of cargo for those flights. The most recent trip was nine days ago.

Meanwhile, flights to Afghanistan have dropped off significantly, the base said, but a spokesman declined to provide figures, citing operational security.

“Airlift into/out of Afghanistan has tapered considerably,” said Lt. Col Chad Rauls, the 437th Wing’s operational group deputy commander. The declining trend on flights to Afghanistan is a result of the rollback there.

“Last year at this same time, we were airlifting almost four times as much cargo into/out of Afghanistan,” Rauls said.

The mission statistics were supplied to The Post and Courier in response to the Obama administration’s actions on two fronts this week that could affect how Charleston’s fleet of C-17s is deployed in the future.

They include Obama’s call for Congress to authorize war powers military action against Islamic State militants, who are cutting a swath across the Middle East.

Also, Obama declared the Ebola mission in West Africa was moving to a new phase because the spread of the outbreak has been curbed so well that nearly all U.S. troops sent to Liberia last fall will be brought back.

Obama said only 100 of the 2,800 troops sent to Liberia will remain there after April 30. About 1,500 have returned home. Those staying will work with Liberia’s military, regional partners and U.S. civilians.

Many of the early missions to Africa were to move needed gear and infrastructure needs, such as equipment, housing and vehicles.

While Liberia’s case numbers are easing, the trend has been up in neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea.

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