The Iraqi Air Force has launched operations across the country, targeting ISIS training camps and militants in a bid to prevent the group's resurgence.
The Iraqi Joint Operations Command, responsible for coordination between the the Iraqi Air Force and the International Coalition, announced that it is continuing to maintain and support Iraqi F-16 fighter crafts and other critical pieces of equipment used in the operations against ISIS. The statement was issued after rumours circulated online that the Coalition had stopped its support, with technicians and other personnel reportedly leaving the Balad Air Base.
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, while the Coalition technicians have left the Balad Air Base, the operations have not been suspended, noting that Iraqi technicians and pilots have enough expertise to continue the operations. Security experts confirmed that Iraqi cadres have enough expertise in handling, maintaining and preserving F-16 fighter crafts. The Ministry also noted that these jets continue to target ISIS positions, highlighting the institutional growth of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
Such developments are not restricted to the Iraqi Air Force. The wider ISF has also shown increased anti-ISIS capabilities since the Coalition took a back-step on account of the tensions between the United States and Iran. Notably, January of 2020 saw the ISF launch its first ground operations against ISIS militants without any support from the Coalition. Iraqi officials noted that efforts to build the institutional capabilities of the Iraqi Air Force and the wider ISF will continue. Nonetheless, this week, the Iraqi Government announced the resumption of joint anti-ISIS operations.
These efforts come at a critical time for Iraq. ISIS-linked attacks have picked up in recent weeks, especially in Diyala where the Iraqi Air Force continues to target militant camps. Many experts note that the US-Iran tensions and the on-going and increasingly-violent protests in the country can serve as a distraction from the fight against the militants. It would appear that Baghdad is aware of that too and is continuing its efforts to prevent an ISIS resurgence against the backdrop of wider regional tensions.