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Militants threaten Iraqi F-16 program, Inspector General report says

The F-16 program of the Iraqi military, aircraft like the one pictured at Balad Air Base in Iraq, is in jeopardy because of attacks by militias aligned with Iran, an Inspector General report this week says. Photo by TSgt. Caycee Cook/U.S. Air Force
The F-16 program of the Iraqi military, aircraft like the one pictured at Balad Air Base in Iraq, is in jeopardy because of attacks by militias aligned with Iran, an Inspector General report this week says. Photo by TSgt. Caycee Cook/U.S. Air Force

May 5 (UPI) -- Iraq's F-16 program is in jeopardy because U.S. contractors are leaving key Iraqi bases after attacks by Iran-backed militias, a U.S. government report says.

The 233-page, quarterly "Operation Resolute Support Lead Inspector General's Report" to Congress, released this week, cites examples of threats and attacks on contractors supporting Iraq's F-16 program.

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The aircraft is regarded as instrumental in Iraq's fight against the Islamic State, and about 2,500 U.S. troops are in Iraq as trainers and advisers.

"In Iraq, Iran-aligned militias increased their attacks targeting Coalition [also known as Multi-National Force-Iraq] positions and assets this quarter, prompting a temporary departure of U.S. contractors supporting Iraq's F-16 program," IG officials said in a press release.

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"Although these militias are not directly related to the OIR [Operation Inherent Resolve] counterterrorism mission, their actions threatened the success of Coalition operations during the quarter," officials said.

The report also cited economic, social and political considerations in Iraq which it called "on a concerning trajectory."

At least 30 rocket or bomb attacks have struck U.S. troops, Iraqi supply convoys to foreign forces and the U.S. Embassy since President Joe Biden's inauguration in January.

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Two foreign contractors, one Iraqi contractor and eight Iraqi civilians died in the attacks, although no U.S. contractors of military personnel were killed or injured.

The Balad base was evacuated in March after rocket attacks in late February killed two contractors.

On Sunday, two rockets struck a Baghdad airbase hosting U.S. troops.

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In April, an explosives-laden drone was fired into an airport in Erbil, and this week six rockets struck Balad Air Base, where Sallyport, a U.S.-based contractor maintaining Iraq's F-16 aircraft, is located.

The report noted that 32 of the 36 F-16s obtained by Iraq from 2014 to 2017 were inventoried and 75 percent are either fully or partially operational. While they flew 299 in the first quarter of 2021, all but four were training missions.

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