By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 5, 2007 - As the Iraqi army is growing into its role of securing Iraq, the country's air force is making great progress, too, the Coalition Air Force Transition Team commander told Baghdad reporters today. "The Iraqi air force is growing ... very quickly in their capabilities," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Allardice. "It's very difficult to start with almost nothing, which is where they started in 2004, with about 35 people, to a capability where you can actually fly ... the types of missions we're flying."
The new fleet is flying about 150 sorties a week, he said. This is in stark contrast to the same time a year ago when the number of sorties the Iraqis flew was about 30 a week.
Currently, the Iraqi air force has a fleet of more than 45 aircraft. Before 2003, the fleet was diverse, but suffered after eight years of war with Iran, the first Gulf War and international sanctions.
"This is really an exciting time of growth in Iraq and the Iraqi air force," Allardice said. "In October, we start the pilot training in the Iraqi air force where we're taking new lieutenants ... and actually teaching them how to fly and (turning) them into future Iraqi air force pilots."
The Iraqis are thankful for this type of progress, in addition to the aircraft it's received from the United States, Lt. Gen. Kamal Arzanji, head of the Iraqi air force, told reporters. He thanked his American counterparts for their support, training and rehabilitation of the air force's fleet.
The United States is the coalition member in Iraq leading most of the training, Kamal said. "This is simply because the American abilities are better and they have much better experience," he said. "We're making good use of their experience."