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Possible F-16 buy highlights Iraq's progress

September 15, 2011 (by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.) - Iraq's potential purchase of 18 U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons is an encouraging development that benefits both nations, the senior U.S. Air Force component commander in Iraq said September 14.

"I do not have any word yet that a letter of offer and acceptance is signed, but as you probably know, we did have a senior member of the Iraqi government visit Washington," said Maj. Gen. Russell J. Handy, the commander of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Iraq and director of Air Component Coordination Element-Iraq.

"There was some great work done on that," Handy said. "Everyone that I talk to at every level of government in Iraq is convinced that that is the right approach for them. And so we're very encouraged by those words, and we feel that we're very close to them signing that letter of offer and acceptance."

Handy said the Iraqis could potentially buy more F-16s if, and when, they sign a letter of offer and acceptance.

"They are seeking to buy a larger number of F-16s than they had originally -- up to 36," he said. "This first letter of offer and acceptance is for 18 of them ... we hope to hear very soon that's signed, but no final word yet on that."

Handy said things remain very promising, but challenging in Iraq with Iraqis "on a path to be able to stand alone as a stable, self-reliant and unified nation."

"It's very exciting ... because we are afforded the opportunity to see the results of years of progress by many, many Americans' -- hard-earned progress," the general said. "It's challenging because as we continue to establish this enduring strategic partnership, we are reposturing or redeploying some 50,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and civilians from Iraq and transitioning bases, facilities and infrastructure to the government of Iraq and our U.S. Embassy partners."

Handy lauded U.S. military efforts in Iraq as troops conduct stability and transitioning operations.

"The Airmen I have the privilege of leading in Iraq through this challenge have a very important role in the transition," he said. "We continue to perform all the roles and missions we've done for a number of years."

Handy said these missions include over watch of American forces with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets; close-air support; air mobility; aerial port operations; personnel recovery; and air base management -- all while reposturing U.S. forces.

"In addition to these traditional air component tasks, you'll find Airmen working together with their joint partners in just about every area in the country," Handy said.

The senior U.S. Air Force commander in Iraq also praised Airmen for their performance as advisers to Iraqi air force personnel.

"Our Air Force personnel have helped the Iraqi air force and the Iraqi Army Aviation Command progress to where they are now and have much to be proud of," Handy said. "These advisers have been very successful -- extraordinarily so if you think about it in the last five years."

Iraqi air force and Iraqi Army Aviation Command ranks "have grown tenfold," Handy said, noting American Airrmen have had an advisory role in those Iraqi units.

"As the Iraqis are moving forward and we're transitioning, we are handing more and more of those functions completely over to the Iraqis," Handy said. "Those proud, young Iraqi airmen I spoke of give us great hope."

Courtesy of American Forces Press Service