The U.S. and its partners in the coalition targeting Islamic State group militants in Iraq and Syria have conducted more than 11,000 airstrikes since the campaign began, and refueling tankers have been key to those missions.

“We may not be the tip of the spear, but we are the ones that enable that global reach,” said the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron weapons officer and director of operations, a major who for security reasons could only be identified by his first name, Richard. “The tankers are the ones that enable (the operation) to be as effective as it is.”

The KC-135 Stratotankers out of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar refuel aerial assets in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, which includes Afghanistan.

Without refueling midflight, “some fighters may not even be able to make it” to their objectives, Richard said. “If they run out of munitions they leave. If they run out of crew duty day, they leave. But gas is not a factor because we are up there providing them capability.”