Iraq will receive a new batch of F-16 fighter jets over the course of next year, US Air Force Brigadier-General Andrew Croft said on Monday.
Speaking to US-based Al-Hurra, Croft stated that 13 F-16 jets would be delivered to the Iraqi air force in 2019, which would bring the total number of aircrafts sent by Washington to Baghdad to 34.
According to the US Air Force official, the Iraqi air force is now “more than capable” of eliminating terror organizations by using these aircrafts.
“Training a fighter pilot takes years,” Croft noted. “So, this is not a short-term investment; this is something for the long term.”
The announcement comes as reports in recent weeks indicate a shift in the US’ mission in Iraq from a direct military approach to more of a training and advisory role.
“Iraq’s air force will assume more of the missions, duties, and responsibilities to maintain the country’s hard-fought victories over” the Islamic State (IS), a statement released by US Air Forces Central Command said.
The US Air Force has been backing Iraq’s security forces as well as the Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga with air strikes during the ongoing battle with IS.
The US has also invested in and supported Iraq’s F-16 program where pilots are trained, and the maintenance and security of the F-16s are carried out by American contractors.
Earlier this month, the US Department of Defense announced that a training academy for the Iraqi air force would be established by 2019.
Spartan Air Academy, of Addison, Texas, was awarded a contract by the US Army to begin the construction of an air training facility for Iraq’s air force.
The deal is valued at USD 45 million and includes the development of a flight training school at the Balad Air Base, located about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Baghdad.
In January, the US Air Force granted Sallyport Global Holdings a USD 400 million agreement for base operations and security for Iraq’s F-16 fighter jet program.
Baghdad and Washington signed an agreement in 2011 to buy 36 F-16 fighter jets. Iraq received the first batch in July 2015 and has gradually received other shipments since.