Iraqi Air Force Lifted By Support Missions

Iraqi Air Force Lifted By Support Missions
April 10th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Iraqi Air Force Lifted By Support Missions

Iraqi Air Force Lifted By Support Missions
Washington Times
April 10, 2008
Pg. 1
Airmen backed soldiers in Basra
By Sara A. Carter, The Washington Times
The Iraqi air force, struggling back to life after being decimated in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, played a key role in battles against rebel militiamen in Basra last week, boosting morale among Iraqi troops and providing hope for the country's future, its top commander told The Washington Times.
Since March 25, Lt. Gen. Kamal Barzanji's airmen have flown more than 100 missions in support of Iraqi ground security forces in Basra during Operation Charge of the Knights, under the order of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who said the offensive was to squelch the growing criminal elements in the region.
"When the Basra operation started, from the first day our air force [conducted] support missions," Gen. Barzanji said in a telephone interview from Baghdad. "It raises the morale of the [Iraqi] soldiers as well. One hundred percent of all the requests from Basra we fulfilled."
Gen. Barzanji said significant steps have been taken to rebuild the Iraqi air force the oldest in the Middle East and stressed the importance of continued support from allied forces, particularly the United States, as his nation continues to battle the insurgency. He predicted that the Iraqi air force would be self-sufficient within three years.
Gen. Barzanji said support from Gen. David H. Petraeus and other U.S. commanders has been imperative to the rebuilding efforts of the Iraqi air force and has given "confidence" to Iraqi citizens that their government is making significant strides.
"Of course, this example in Basra gives us confidence to help our ground forces, not only the army, but we support the police as well," he said. "Still, I think we have to work together with the coalition until we get the special kind of fighter planes necessary" and equipment needed to operate on "our own."
The continued fighting in Shi'ite southern city of Basra and the continued mortar attacks in Baghdad's Green Zone stemming from an uprising of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia poses challenges for U.S. military officials and threatens to destabilize various parts of Iraq after relative calm over the past year.
Since Sunday nearly 70 people have been killed and more than 250 others have been wounded as Iraqi Security Forces continue to fight factions of the Mahdi Army.
The Iraqi air force also flew more than 45 C-130J and rotary-wing missions in support during the operation in Basra, along with airlifting food, water, medical supplies and other goods into the region in support of Iraqi troops, the commander added.
More than 50 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions also were flown over Basra by the Iraqi air force, U.S. defense officials said.
"The troops celebrated when they saw that their country was supporting them in the mission," Gen. Barzanji said, adding that Iraq still has a long way to go before it can regain its former status as one of the largest air forces in the world.
The U.S. military is supplying Iraq with helicopters, small surveillance planes and other transport aircraft to try to assist the fledgling force with counterinsurgency operations, some of which it now can do on its own, Iraqi air force officials said. The hope is that the Iraqi air force will build itself back into the viable military branch.
During the Gulf War, the Iraqi air force was devastated by U.S. and allied forces, as many Iraqi pilots flew to Iran to escape the bombing campaign.
The Iranian government confiscated the aircraft, mainly Chinese- and Soviet-made fighters, claiming the equipment as reparations for the Iran-Iraq war. The planes, which at first were impounded, were then turned over to the Islamic Republic of Iran air force.
Before the Gulf War In 1991, the Iraqi air force had 50,000 personnel, compared with only 1,200 today, according to the Military Balance, the International Institute for Strategic Studies' annual assessment of the military capabilities and defense economics of 170 countries worldwide.
In 1991, the Iraqi air force had 16 bombers, including Tu-22 and Tu-16; 360 fighter ground attack craft, which included J-6, MiG-23, Su-7, and Su-20; and 275 fighters, including the MiG-21, Mirage and MiG-29. Today, it has 17 reconnaissance planes, three transport planes and only several aircraft for training.
Despite the shortage, the recovery of the Iraqi air force over the past few years is considered a successful endeavor for Iraq-U.S. relations.
Since November 2006, the U.S. Air Force has been aiding Iraqi military commanders in an effort to get the fledgling branch to solely take on military operations.
Gen. Petraeus testified that the Iraqi forces have shown success in their recent operations in Basra and other less-fortified regions of the nation, telling House members Tuesday that "some of these provinces were challenged during the outbreak of violence that accompanied the start of the Basra operation. And in the bulk of those southern provinces, Iraqi forces proved up to the task."
Gen. Barzanji said the Iraqi air force, which will celebrate its 77th anniversary April 22, still needs "two to three years" of continued coalition support.
The number of assigned personnel in the Iraqi air force increased from 915 in February 2007 to more than 1,300 last month. About 90 percent of the nation's training is conducted in Iraq, officials said.
Lt. Col. Veronica Brown, deputy spokeswoman for Multi-national Security Transition Command-Iraq, said maintaining a relationship with the Iraqi air force is important for future stability in the nation.
"More and more, we are taking on an advisory type of role, while the Iraqis are taking more of a lead in their operations," Col. Brown said.
Despite the numerous adversities within Iraq's borders, Gen. Barzanji said he is hopeful that his nation will soon be free of "war and enemies" and instead live in "peace" with the help of allies.
"We will continue our relations and future as friends," said Gen. Barzanji, regarding U.S.-Iraq relations. "We will fight the enemy together and win the war against terrorism."
He added that "Iraq will one day be a good example for the rest of the Middle East."

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