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Friday, July 6, 2007

Iraq dependent on U.S. air power until 2012

WASHINGTON The U.S. military has determined that Iraq would be unable to protect its air space from regional rivals until at least 2012.

As a result, officials said, Baghdad would continue to need U.S. military assistance to support and augment the Iraq Air Force.

"The Iraqi Air Force will not be capable of protecting their sovereign air space for probably the next five years," Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, outgoing commander of the U.S.-led training program of the Iraqi forces, said. "That's all part of what we determine is the long-term security relationship."

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On June 27, a House Armed Services subcommittee report asserted that the Iraq Air Force was limited to surveillance, reconnaissance and light transport capability. The report said the U.S. military decided not to equip Iraq with fixed-wing fighter-jets.

"In fact, it considers the assets unnecessary and incapable of influencing the counterinsurgency fight," the report said.

Each Iraq Air Force ISR squadron has been equipped with four to six light tactical observation aircraft, Middle East Newsline reported. The air force was also training and equipping three light utility helicopter squadrons for transport and casualty evacuation missions.

Over the last two years, the report said, the U.S.-led Coalition Air Force Transition Team focused on efforts to establish capabilities in two areas: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance [ISR], and fixed-wing transport. Such an effort required additional assets, the report said, and the Iraqi Defense Ministry has requested three surplus U.S. military C-130s.

At the same time, the U.S. military has agreed to facilitate offensive operations by the Iraq Air Force. House members asserted that the U.S. plan remains vague.

"For 2008, MNSTC-I has tasked the CAF-TT with assisting the Iraqis in developing a light attack capability," the report said. "MNSTC-I plans on filling this requirement with light turbo-prop aircraft. The mission for the post-Objective counterinsurgency air force points toward external defense, but does not yet identify the resources in terms of fighter and interceptor aircraft to carry it out."

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