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More U.S. Air Force missions over Iraq?

  |   Aug. 29, 2011 at 1:34 PM
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BAGHDAD, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- As U.S. forces on the ground prepare to leave Iraq by the end of the year, missions overhead are likely to increase, a U.S. Air Force general said.

There are around 46,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. All of them are to leave the country by the end of the year under the terms of a status of forces agreement signed in 2008.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Russell Handy said the number of sorties flown over Iraq is likely to increase during the upcoming months.

"As we continue to draw down the land component, we will continue to fly cover overhead," he was quoted by the Defense Department as saying during a teleconference from Baghdad.

He said the logistics behind the deployment meant the Air Force would be called on to provide "a lot of airlift." Operations, however, would extend to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, which he characterized as a "huge part" of the mission in Iraq.

Iraq has experienced an increase in violence as the Dec. 31 deadline for a U.S. military withdrawal draws closer. Baghdad, however, hasn't filled key Cabinet ministries and U.S. military officials in Iraq said that's one of the reasons for the country's security woes.

A series of bomb attacks across Iraq killed at least 35 people recently, including a lawmaker who died in an attack on a Sunni mosque in Baghdad during the weekend.

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