The Iraqi Air Force has taken the lead in battles against ISIS, supporting an advance near the town of Baiji. Iraqi F-16s and attack helicopters on March 1-2 helped troops reclaim territory in the area, north of Tikrit. The coalition did fly airstrikes in support of the Iraqi army and Iraqi special forces, though it was “hard for us” to determine the front lines in the fight, said Col. Christopher Garver, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, in a March 4 briefing. Iraqi pilots, however, can speak Arabic and better communicate with forces on the ground to determine targets. Iraqi F-16s first arrived in the country in J?uly and began flying airstrikes in September. Iraqi pilots trained with the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.