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Sunday, October 2, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

U.S. steps up training of Iraqi pilots as withdrawal deadline nears

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military has intensified training of Iraqi combat pilots.


Officials said the U.S. military was forming a corps of Iraqi pilots meant to serve as instructors after the American withdrawal from Iraq in late 2011. So far, they said, more than 60 Iraqi pilots have been certified under the guidance of U.S. instructors.

"The pilot program has also produced 30 instructor pilots who, along with U.S. advisors, will continue to educate and train students to strengthen the Iraqi air force," the U.S. military said.

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The Iraqi training has taken place at the Kirkuk air base in the north. The training, including airmanship and basic flying skills, was said to resemble initial flight school for U.S. military pilots.

"The Iraqis get a very similar feel to what training is like in the states," U.S. commander Lt. Col. Ned Sandlin said. "It's so similar that any U.S. instructor pilot can come over here and quickly recognize and adapt to the way the squadron operates."

Officials said Iraqi cadets attended initial flight screening for two months. Another 10 months were devoted to flight training on the Cessna 172 and Cessna Caravan 208 aircraft. The pilots were expected to be assigned to transport, reconnaissance or Iraqi fighter aircraft, including the F-16, ordered by Baghdad in September.

"We are trying to build up their capabilities for the future," Sandlin said. "It's important for a country to have a strong air force in order to defend their air space and the borders."

Officials said the U.S. Air Force has been increasing operations and training in Iraq throughout 2011. U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Russell Handy, commander of the training program, said the Iraq Air Force has already demonstrated success with transport and surveillance operations.

"We partner with them [Iraq] at the squadron and on the ground, and in the operations center to integrate that ISR," Handy said.

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