Lockheed Martin is withdrawing personnel who support Iraq’s F-16 fleet from Balad Air Base because of threats from militias in the region, a step that will likely limit the fleet’s operations.
The move comes after some contractors had temporarily left the major operating base in recent months because of the threat from Iranian-backed militias, according to a Defense Department Inspector General report.
“In coordination with the U.S. government and with employee safety as our top priority, Lockheed Martin is relocating our Iraq-based F-16 team,” the company said in a statement. “We value our partnership with the Iraqi Air Force and will continue to work with the Iraq and U.S. governments to ensure mission success going forward.”
The New York Times reported May 10 that the company had 70 employees at Balad, with 50 expected to return to the U.S. and 20 headed to Erbil in the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq.
A senior ministry official told the Times it had asked the company to delay the decision, and the company responded that the personnel would return in a matter of months when protection would be provided.
The Defense Department’s Lead Inspector General for Operation Inherent Resolve, in a report released May 4, said the contractors had left the base as militias conducted harassment-style attacks at Balad and other locations across Iraq.
This comes after contractors could not directly support F-16s at Balad in 2020 because of a combination of regional threats and COVID-19, according to the IG. When the contractors left in 2020, they created a remote system to help Iraqi maintainers while not co-located at Balad, and the personnel will use this system again, according to a source familiar to the situation.