by JOSEPH TREVITHICK
The Iraqi Ministry of Defense says its F-16IQ fighter bombers have bombed the Islamic State terrorist group, also known by the acronym ISIL. If true, this would be the first time Baghdad has sent the new jets into battle.
On Sept. 6, Iraqi defense minister Khaled Al Obaidi held a press conference in Arabic only announcing the strikes. Unlike when Iraqi pilots brought the first four Vipers to Balad Air Base in July, authorities in Baghdad did not release any photos or videos of the planes in action.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook was quick to congratulate Iraq:
Today the Government of Iraq announced that Iraq has conducted its first counter-ISIL air operations using F-16 fighter aircraft. We commend the Iraqi Air Force for its successful use of this cutting edge aircraft in the international campaign to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. The first four aircraft purchased by the Government were delivered to Iraq in July. The United States is committed to building a strategic partnership with Iraq and the Iraqi people and we will continue to work with the Government of Iraq on the delivery of the remaining aircraft as they become available within the framework of the production schedule.
After five years of struggling to get the jets, it was unclear whether Baghdad could actually use the high-tech planes in combat. A loose, machine translation of Al Obaidi’s remarks seems to speak directly to these concerns:
Despite the challenges, constraints and lack of resources … [Iraq is] moving towards building a professional army … equipped with the latest weapons and military technologies … I’ve had joined the first squadron of aircraft the (F-16) … , [a] painful blow to all questioning campaigns and misinformation that was promoted by some … [T]he implementation of heroic combat sorties [was] wonderful and successful on enemy targets.
Al Obaidi promised more attacks on Islamic State “dens” in the near future. After the minister’s speech, Lt. Gen. Anwar Hama Amin added that the F-16s had flown 15 total strikes in Salaheddin and Kirkuk provinces using “smart weapons” already, according to a report by AFP.
But with so few details, it’s hard to figure out how whether these attacks achieved any tangible results. The Pentagon and Baghdad haven’t offered up any information as to what weapons the Iraqi Air Force has to go along with the new aircraft — or how much experience Iraqi pilots have pointing them at their intended targets.
The country’s air arm does have thousands of Hellfire laser-guided missiles, but the F-16IQs can’t launch them. The deadly weapons are for the country’s two tiny, turboprop Cessna Caravan attack planes.
According to statements from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the fighter jet deals included 100 AGM-65 Maverick infrared-homing missiles and 600 Paveway laser-seeking bombs. In May 2014, the U.S. Air Force also announced that it was interested in buying special targeting gear to send to Iraq.
We still don’t know how many of these weapons and sensors the Pentagon has delivered so far. If Baghdad hopes to keep up the current pace or expand the number of strikes, the Iraqi Air Force will need hundreds of missiles and bombs.
After Islamic State surged into the country’s northern regions in the summer of 2014, Baghdad’s pilots quickly burned through hundreds of Hellfires. Similarly, Saudi Arabia wants thousands of GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions after more than five months of bombing Houthi rebels and their allies in Yemen, according to a report by Bloomberg.
With only four F-16IQs in the country at present, Baghdad hopes to build up a fleet of more than 30 Vipers.