Iraq Got F-16s in September 2015 And Immediately Started Bombing ISIS
The 9th Fighter Squadron wasted no time
On Sept. 5, 2017, Iraqi air force major Noor Faleh Al Khuzai died in the crash of his F-16 fighter during a training flight in Arizona. This is the second F-16IQ the Iraqi air force has lost in Arizona. On June 25, 2015, F-16C serial number 1609 crashed, killing its pilot Brig. Gen. Rafid Mohammad Hassan.
In January 2011, Iraq signed a contract worth $3 billion for 18 F-16C/D Block 52 fighters — 12 single-seat F-16Cs and six two-seat F-16Ds — for delivery between 2014 and 2015.
In March 2012, the first Iraqi F-16 pilot graduated from Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training in the United States. In October that year, Iraq ordered 18 more F-16s.
On May 2, 2014, the first Iraqi F-16IQ — F-16D serial number 1601 — made its maiden flight at Forth Worth, Texas, followed by official delivery to Iraq on June 5. The first two aircraft, 1601 and 1602, went to Tucson International Airport, home of the U.S. Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing, which trains Iraqi pilots.
Iraqi air force captain Hama in Arizona in December 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan
The original plan was for F-16s to begin flying to Iraq in September 2014, but Islamic State’s invasion forced Baghdad to push back the jets’ arrival. Meanwhile, around 350 Iraqi technicians received English-language training in Jordan to help them maintain the aircraft.
On July 9, 2015, F-16Cs numbers 1607 and 1610 as well as F-16Ds 1601 and 1604 took off from Tucson. They landed at Balad air base in Iraq on July 13, where they joined the new 9th Fighter Squadron.
The F-16s entered combat on Sept. 6, 2015. Over a four-day period, they carried out reconnaissance mission and 15 air strikes on enemy positions in Salah Ad Din and Kirkuk provinces north of Baghdad. The Iraqi jets also bombed an ISIS convoy that was heading from Sinjar to Tal Afar south of Mosul, killing of seven militants and wounding 12 others.
On Sept. 14, 2015, Iraqi F-16s struck ISIS locations near Hawija, west of Kirkuk, resulting in the complete destruction of a bridge over the Zab River. ISIS militants had been using the bridge to bring in supplies from Syria
Ten days later on Sept. 24, F-16s hit IED factories in Mosul. On Oct. 5, 2015, an F-16 bombed an ISIS safehouse in Qaim in Anbar province. Twenty enemy fighters died in the blast. Five days later, the F-16s struck another ISIS convoy heading toward Mosul.
F-16s arrive at Balad in August 2016. Photo via the author
The F-16s helped Baghdad to greatly expand its aerial campaign against Islamic State. On Oct. 17, the singe-engine fighters destroyed two targets in two different places — an arms depot in Albu Shajil, north of Fallujah, and a cave in Mount Makhoul where ISIS militants had barricaded themselves.
F-16s demolished the ISIS headquarters in Kabisa district, west of Ramadi, on Oct. 25, 2015, killing nine militants and destroying two fuel tanks and two vehicles. In all, the 9th Fighter Squadron completed 62 sorties and destroyed 160 targets between early September and the end of October 2015.
Two new F-16Cs — serial numbers 1612 and 1614 — landed at Balad in February 2016, bringing the squadron’s strength to six jets. The F-16s supported ground troops during the Battle of Ramadi and the liberation of Fallujah between February and June 2016.
On May 9, 2016, F-16s destroyed two ISIS-occupied buildings, two weapons caches and 60 rocket launchers in the area of Albu Shehab and Amiriyah Fallujah. As coalition ground troops assaulted Fallujah on May 22, the 9th Fighter Squadron launched multiple air strikes, hitting an IED manufacturing plant, a factory for armored vehicles, ISIS so-called “economic headquarters” and the group’s Islamic tribunal.
Four new F-16C/Ds arrived at Balad air base in August 2016, increasing to 10 the number of jets in the 9th Fighter Squadron. The four fresh aircraft included single-seaters 1611, 1617, 1618 and two-seater serial number 1620.
F-16D number 1620 and F-16Cs 1621, 1623 and 1624 arrived in Iraq in August and November 2016. On March 24, 2017, the Iraqi air force received the fifth batch of four F-16IQs — numbers 1626, 1627, 1628 and 1629. By then the 9th Fighter Squadron had 18 planes. Enough to sustain intensive operations against ISIS.