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Iraqi F-16s still not carrying out coalition strikes

Iraq’s fleet of F-16 multirole fighters have yet to be placed on US-led coalition air-tasking orders despite an improvement in availability due to the return of US contractors last year, according to a report released by the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General on 7 February.

The contractors supporting the F-16s left Balad Air Base at the beginning of 2020 due to an increased threat to the base, resulting in them being taken off the air-tasking orders managed by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR).

The contractors began returning in September, with the report citing US Central Command (CENTCOM) as saying that 75% of the F-16s were mission-capable or partially mission-capable in the last quarter of 2020.

However, the aircraft could not be included in coalition air-tasking due to a lack of coalition air advisor support and secure communications at Balad. CENTCOM said it did not know when these problems would be rectified as they are the responsibility of CJTF-OIR, which did not comment on the situation for the report.

Nevertheless, F-16s still carried out two airstrikes in the quarter using GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, according to CENTCOM, although it did not know who approved the strikes.

The F-16 fleet flew 271 sorties, 267 of which were dedicated to training. The aim is to increase the number of training sorties from four to eight a day.

CJTF-OIR reported that the Iraqi Air Force has also reactivated two L-159 advanced trainer and light attack jets with the assistance of Czech contractors. The L-159 pilots need to regain proficiency after the extended grounding of the fleet, it said.

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