Friday, July 04, 2014

United States official: Iraqi pilots not qualified to fly F-16

The United States has linked its delay in equipping Iraq’s air force with fighter jets to disqualification of Iraqi pilots.

The Iraqi government earlier complained that Washington has been slow in its delivery of F-16 fighter jets Baghdad needs to fight against Takfiri militants who have seized several key Iraqi cities since a new wave of violence erupted in the country on June 10.

The delay is because no Iraqi pilot team is qualified to fly the aircraft in combat and none will be ready before mid-August, The Washington Post reported Thursday citing an official at the US-based program where the pilots are being trained.

According to the report, US officials say they are also worried about providing Iraq with laser-guided Hellfire missiles and Apache combat helicopters, arguing that the weaponry going to Iraq could be used against political targets.

As militants loyal to the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and al-Levant has been fighting in the past weeks to seize the capital Baghdad, the Pentagon and Congress are still examining whether they should send 4,000 additional Hellfires to Iraq.

The US already sent 400 hellfires to Iraq as part of a deal of 500 missiles.

US officials argue that only two planes in the Iraqi air force are capable of firing the missiles, both turboprop Cessna.

According to the Post, the US military is now trying to figure how to retrofit other rudimentary aircraft that the Iraqis can fly.

But Baghdad insists that its military forces are capable to use the US weaponry.

Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador to the US, said in Washington this week that Baghdad had asked Washington “again and again” for air support such as Apache helicopters and without it, Iraq has been forced to turn to Russia for fighter jets.

“We don’t have choices,” said Faily. “The situation on the ground is pushing us to choose whoever will support us.”

The US has given Iraq more than $1 billion in equipment over the past decade to create an air force, according to the report.

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