ISIS Building Air Force, Moving Closer to Key Air Bases

Wednesday, 25 Jun 2014 09:59 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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After commandeering Humvees, munitions, tanks, trucks, and possibly Blackhawk helicopters, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is closing in on Iraq's Balad Air Base, the nation's largest airfield, The Daily Beast reports.

The airfield — a key American outpost when U.S. troops were in the country — still houses an abundance of aircraft, including, according to the Beast, "Russian-made transport helicopters, surveillance planes, and a fleet of pickup trucks fitted with heavy machine guns."

Russia began sending Mi-35 attack and transport helicopters in December, and the base was awaiting delivery of American F-16 fighter jets set for September.

Balad is under heavy mortar fire and surrounded on three sides by insurgents. On June 13, Iraqi forces rescued American contractors working at Balad, flying them to Baghdad, which is 50 south of Balad Air Base.

Should ISIS succeed in seizing the assets at Balad, "it would mean strategic defeat for the Iraqi army," according to Jessica Lewis, research director for the Institute for the Study of War and a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who served in Iraq.

Balad and neighboring Taji base are likely some of the next targets of the ISIS campaign.

The bases are critical military sites for the Iraqi army. Balad houses a significant arsenal of equipment, a former contractor told The Daily Beast, including "at least 1,000 trucks and vehicles, some of them armored, along with 500 to 600 portable power generators … Russian-made Mi-8 transport helicopters, small surveillance planes, military tactical vehicles, Humvees, and a fleet of pickup trucks with machine guns mounted in the truck beds."

Before it was handed over to the Iraqis in November 2011, the Balad Air Base was considered one of the busiest airports in the entire region, and housed roughly 36,000 American personnel, according to Business Insider.
A senior U.S. military intelligence official told reporters this week that ISIS military capabilities have "dramatically improved" as a result of everything it has stolen.

Fox News
reported last week that much of the equipment seized from Iraq is being shipped to al-Qaida rebels in Syria. ISIS posted its haul on social media.

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