In Rudaw 

F-16 jets at al-Balad air base are operating well, continue anti-ISIS airstrikes: Iraqi military official

A senior Iraqi military official claims that all of the country’s F-16 jets are operating, and will continue conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) sleeper cells, despite a damning new report claiming that only five of the country’s 27 jets are operational.

This also comes after three Katyusha rockets landed inside al-Balad air base in Salahaddin province, which houses Iraq’s F-16 jets, late Thursday, according to the Iraqi security media cell.

Maj. Gen. Tahsin Khafaji, spokesperson of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command, told Iraqi state media on Friday that all the jets are “in good condition”.

“Iraqi F-16 fighter jets will continue to target the ISIS remnants, as the jets are all in good condition,” Khafaji said. “Iraqi technicians are constantly working on maintaining the F-16 jets to continue their work targeting ISIS terrorist”

Al-Balad air base, 64 km north of Baghdad, houses 27 F-16 fighter jets that Iraqi forces use to conduct airstrikes against ISIS hideouts in the country, supporting the ground anti-ISIS military operations.

The F-16 is a single engine, all-weather military aircraft. It was originally developed by General Dynamics before the manufacturer became part of Lockheed Martin after a merger in 1995.

Iraq’s security media cell tweeted that “no damages” occurred during Thursday’s rocket attacks.

No group has claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks. However, US has attributed past rocket attacks on sites of international importance to Iran-backed militias, who it says are looking to further inflame US-Iran tensions.

Al-Balad air base was hit with rockets in the past. In January, eight Katyusha rockets were fired on the airbase, which resulted in the wounding of four members of the Iraqi Air Force, including two officers.

US troops were hosted in al-Balad airbase providing training for the Iraqi air force units on F-16 fighter jets. However, according to slain Iraqi security analyst, Husham al-Hashimi, who was assassinated last month in Baghdad, the US-led coalition troops left al-Balad air base on January 4, one day after the killing of top Iranian commander Qassim Sulaimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic).

Khafaji’s claims come a day after an investigation by Iraq Oil report has found that out of 27 fighter jets, only “five jets are currently able to fly.”

The report claims that the reason that the majority of the fighter jets are grounded, is not only because of ‘US maintenance,” but also corruption.

“Balad Airbase is like a big, gigantic cake and everyone in Iraq is standing around with a fork,” one contractor associated with the base told Iraq Oil Report.

According to the report, military leaders in al-Balad airbase are “fabricating records of training flights that don’t actually happen”, in order to make use of unused jet fuel for their personal interests.

“Iraqi pilots are scared to fly”, the report claims, due to poor maintenance that the Iraqi mechanics are providing.

“Several officials said the base has recently averaged just two F-16 training flights per day, down from 12 to 18 per day when Lockheed Martin [US F-16 maintenance company] was present,” the report added. Source