Air Force Working to Protect Iraqi Pilots from Travel Ban

The Air Force is working with the Defense Department and State Department to ensure that Iraqi F-16 pilots can come to Arizona for training in spite of the ban on travel for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq. Air Force spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder said Tuesday that it “just makes sense” to make sure the Iraqi pilots can get to the Air National Guard’s 162nd Wing, which conducts F-16 training for US and allied forces, at Tucson International Airport. About 30 pilots are at Luke AFB, Ariz., currently training on F-16s, and the Air Force does not have numbers of pilots who would be coming to and from the base in the near future because training “fluctuates,” said Ryder. President Donald Trump on Jan. 27 signed an executive order temporarily banning travel by people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) first raised the issue of the F-16 pilots in a Sunday statement, saying the ban impacts the trainees and could end up being a “self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.” The Pentagon said Monday it is compiling a list of Iraqi employees it hopes to exempt from the ban.