Missile markings on the nose of US Air Force jets returning home from the Middle East suggest they took part in the raid that killed ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last fall.
US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle warplanes stopped off at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom on Wednesday on their way back to the US after flying missions over Syria and Iraq.
Close-up images of the planes published by The Drive show markings on their noses of the aircraft which indicate that they used stealth AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM).
According to The Drive, there have only been two known instances in which JASSMs have been used in combat, with the most recent being the one that leveled al-Baghdadi’s compund after he was killed by US special forces.
According to The Drive, the most likely scenario is that the jets were involved in the raid that killed the ISIS leader.
The only other time the missiles have been confirmed to have been used was when the US ordered cruise missile strikes on Syria in 2018.
This was after it was alleged that government forces loyal to President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed8 last October when he detonated a suicide vest as US Army Special Ops forces closed in on his hideout in northwestern Syria.
Between 50 and 70 members of the US Army Delta Force and Rangers flew in on six helicopters and surrounded al-Baghdadi during the raid in Syria’s Idlib province.
After the raid, the military revealed they had used JASSM missiles to level his compound.
Al-Baghdadi rose from obscurity to lead the ultra-hardline group and declare himself ‘caliph’ of all Muslims, holding sway over huge areas of Iraq and Syria from 2014-2017 before Islamic State’s control disintegrated under US-led attacks.
The F-15-E jets are now on their way home to Mountain Home base in Idaho after stopping by the RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, UK, earlier this week.
About a dozen F-15E Strike Eagles which are part of the 389th Fighter Squadron, the Thunderbolts, are on their way back home after spending just over 18 months supporting US-led operations over Iraq and Syria.
Photos snapped on Wednesday of the planes as they landed in the UK show markings and drawings indicating that two of the fighter jets took part in special missions.
One of the jets is nicknamed ‘Checkmate’ while the other is named ‘Boogeyman’ – names which suggest they took part in the al-Baghdadi mission.
US F-15E Strike Eagle jets, first built in 1989, have been involved in missions in the Middle East and have seen recent action in Syria and Iraq.
Royal Air Force base Lakenheath hosts United States Air Force units and personnel.
US Air Force aircraft, together with British, German and Italian warplanes, have recently taken part in a training exercise over the North Sea.
Around 100 personnel and 38 aircraft, including F-16 fighter jets, participated in Wednesday’s exercise, which aimed to ‘sharpen combat readiness’, said large force exercise planner Captain Nathan Hartoin.
Captain Hartoin, of 48th Fighter Wing based at Lakenheath, said the primary purpose of the exercise is to ‘maintain a ready force capable of ensuring the collective defence of the NATO alliance’.
He added that video calls enabled planning during the pandemic and further measures were in place to guard against coronavirus.
‘Once we get out to the jets, there’s a procedure for decontaminating the jets along with the pilot flying and then decontaminating after the flight as well,’ he said.
‘Along with in-mission planning, we’re able to maintain the space based on the size of the working area that we actually have, then we’re able to maintain that space again via the video teleconferences across different bases.’
The drill involved F-16 jets from Aviano Airbase in Italy and Spangdahlem Airbase in Germany, alongside KC-135 Stratotanker refueller aircraft from RAF Mildenhall.
Military exercises over the North Sea and in the Baltics are likely to be related to rising tensions between Russia and the Western powers.
A spokesman for EuCom, the US European Command which co-ordinates military activity in Europe, said: ‘We have not seen an increase in threatening activity from any potential adversaries in the European theatre; however, we continue to train and stand ready to counter any potential threat that may arise.’