US delivers first F-16 fighters to Iraq
The U.S. on Monday delivered the first lot of F-16 fighter jets to the Iraqi government to be used in the fight against Islamic militants.
Brett McGurk, the administration’s deputy special presidential envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), confirmed the deliver on Twitter.
“After years of preparation & training in the U.S., Iraqi pilots today landed the 1st squadron of Iraqi F16s in #Iraq,” he said.
The four jets arrived the Balad air base around midday local time, an Iraqi air force official told Reuters.
Iraq originally ordered 36 of the $65 million fighter aircraft, but deliveries were delayed because of security concerns that ISIS forces could overrun Balad, which is about 45 miles from Baghdad.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. would help the Iraqi government keep the jets out of the terror’s groups hands.
“Of course we’re concerned about the security situation on the ground, and not just with respect to aircraft, but any other equipment that could be damaged … by ISIL,” he said during a press briefing, using the other common acronym for the group.
“F-16 jets are a little bit different,” Kirby added, noting that ISIS “has no air force and has no capability or ability to fly advanced fighter aircraft.”
He emphasized that Baghdad’s forces would fly the planes.
“If they are going to be flown in combat over the skies of Iraq, they will be flown by Iraqi pilots,” according to Kirby.
He shot down the suggestion that the advanced jets could be used for sectarian purposes; something Iraq’s Kurdish population has voiced concern about in the past.
“The internal conflict in Iraq right now is ISIL. That’s the internal conflict inside Iraq,” he said.
“The aircraft are designed and were purchased by Iraq for their self defense. The fight inside Iraq right now is against ISIL. And our expectation is that if and when they start flying missions and combat sorties in Iraq, that’s what they’ll they be used for: not to go after — not to contribute to any sectarian issues inside Iraq,” Kirby added.