F-35 makes US combat debut in Afghanistan

F-35 makes US combat debut in Afghanistan
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The United States has used an F-35 fighter jet in combat for the first time, conducting an airstrike in Afghanistan, the U.S. military announced Thursday.

The fighter jet conducted an airstrike Thursday in support of ground clearance operations, according to a release from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

The ground force commander deemed the strike successful, the release added. 

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“The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility and tactical supremacy,” Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, commander of Naval Forces Central Command, said in a statement. “As part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, this platform supports operations on the ground from international waters, all while enabling maritime superiority that enhances stability and security.”

The F-35B is the Marine Corps’ version of the fifth generation fighter and has the ability to land like a helicopter. It was declared combat-ready in 2015, the first variant to reach the milestone.

“The opportunity for us to be the first U.S. Navy, Marine Corps team to employ the F-35B in support of maneuver forces on the ground demonstrates one aspect of the capabilities this platform brings to the region, our allies, and our partners," Col. Chandler Nelms, commanding officer 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said in a statement.

Critics have decried the F-35 program, the most expensive weapons program in history, as a boondoggle. The Lockheed Martin-made jet has been beset by numerous issues, including cost overruns and technical glitches.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE himself bashed the F-35 during his transition, saying the program’s costs were “out-of-control.”

More recently, though, he has taken credit for a cost reduction that analysts and Pentagon officials say was in the works before he got involved.

Trump has also hailed the jet as “invisible.” The F-35 has stealth technology, making it harder to be detected by radar, but is not invisible.

Though Thursday’s strike was the first time the United States used the F-35 in combat, it is not the jet’s combat debut. In May, the Israel Defense Forces tweeted that it used its F-35 Adir fighters for airstrikes in the Middle East.