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Tuesday, April 22, 2008       Free Headline Alerts

Iraq air force back in action for first time since Saddam

BAGHDAD — The Iraq Air Force reported it has shifted from training to active support for combat operations against Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias in the south.

Officials said the Iraq Air Force planned, executed and monitored more than 100 missions in support of Iraqi ground forces in Basra in late March and April, Middle East Newsline reported. They said this marked the first air operations in direct support of combat troops since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003.

"The Iraqi Air Force was tasked with the mission to support the Iraqi ground forces during recent operations in Basra with personnel transportation, medical evacuation, logistical resupply, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance," Multinational Force-Iraq said.

Officials said the air force planned and executed the forward deployment of six rotary-winged and five fixed-winged aircraft for the operation in Basra. The platforms consisted of four Mi-17 and two Huey-2 helicopters, two C-130 air transports and three CH-2000 single engine reconnaissance aircraft.

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Since February 2007, the air force, with about 60 aircraft, has increased its weekly sorties from 30 to 300. Manpower has risen from 915 in February 2007 to 1,344 in March 2008.

The Basra operation also contained air force reconnaissance missions. Officials said the CH-2000 reconnaissance aircraft executed 53 missions for a total of 91 hours of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over Basra.

"The efforts of these pilots provided valuable intelligence on enemy concentrations and movements, bomb damage assessment and current status of Iraqi ground units," the U.S.-led coalition said.

Moreover, Iraqi helicopters conducted 30 operations including logistic support missions that brought food, water and medical supplies throughout Basra.

Officials said the aircraft provided perimeter defense, supported several leaflet drops, transported Iraqi troops and evacuated the injured.

"This is an historic milestone in the growth of the Iraqi Air Force to be able to effectively support on-going operations in Basra with critical air mobility and airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities," U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Brooks Bash, commander of the Coalition Air Force Training Team, said.

Officials said the two Iraq Air Force C-130 Hercules moved 175 tons of cargo, including 127 tons of ammunition, 18 tons of food and eight tons of medical supplies from New Al Muthana Air Base in Baghdad to Basra. They said the air transports marked a crucial element in the rapid deployment of more than 800 military and civilian security personnel as well as the evacuation of 69 Iraqi soldiers from Basra to Baghdad.

"The Iraqi people can be very proud that their air force is making a real difference in the fight against those criminal elements who seek to harm innocent Iraqi citizens and disregard the rule of law," Bash said.


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