Securing the Skies
Lt. Gen. Anwer Hamed Amin Shares His Insight on Success, Leadership and the Future
The history of the Iraqi Air Force is rich in heroism and glory. Iraqi pilots enjoy special treatment and respect in the region because of their professionalism and performance. One of those elite hawks is Lt. Gen. Anwer Hamed Amin, commander of the Iraqi Air Force. His legacy reveals a brave man who participated in many honorable battles. He was born in Kirkuk province, which, because of its diversity of ethnicities, is a mini version of the nation as a whole. His childhood friends were Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen, Christian and Shabak; their differences didn’t divide them but created a shared sense of tolerance and friendship. He became a fighter pilot in 1980 and participated in the war that was raging then, earning 4,500 flying hours. After climbing the chain of command, he assumed the title of commander in 2009. He recently spoke with Unipath.
Unipath: How has the air force upgraded its equipment?
I am very pleased with the Iraqi Air Force performance in the battle against Da’ish, but I’m thrilled to receive F-16s and await delivery of a Czech contract in the next few months so we can reach a higher level to provide effective support for our ground forces. Currently, we largely depend on the coalition forces’ efforts. Economic hardship has prevented our Air Force from reaching the highest levels of readiness. In addition, the acquisition of fighter jets takes a long time: The jets need to be built and the pilots trained. We signed a contract for light fighter jets that can provide close air support and are expecting their arrival in the second half of 2015. This will definitely increase our tactical capabilities. As of July 2015, we are using Cessnas and Sukhoi fighter jets. My primary goal is to obtain different types of fighter jets from different origins like F-16 or comparable types. Additionally, I desire an anti-terrorism jet like an AT-6. If we had the American AT-6 available today, the ground situation would be much easier for our troops because this type of plane carries weapons that are very accurate in an urban war. The efforts of our cargo planes have been great, but I am eager to build a complete fleet, modern air bases and housing that are acceptable for pilots. Moreover, I want to build institutions to prepare technicians and build all infrastructure, which will give our Air Force a huge jump in terms of tactical and training capabilities.
Unipath: How important is training for the Air Force?
Training is the backbone of building an Air Force able to defeat the enemy and a prerequisite for use of modern weapons. It’s the most important pillar to build a qualified pilot. Lack of training has stunted our efforts in some previous operations. But Air Force training is much different than that of the rest of the Armed Forces. The process of training a pilot, engineer and technician takes a long time and a lot of money. We always focused on the training aspect. In fact, when we sign a new contract, we prioritize training. Our F-16 pilots are a good example. They undergo advanced training to develop their abilities to levels comparable to U.S. pilots. They will be able to join the coalition forces air campaign against Da’ish. Security challenges have made it difficult to provide an advanced training center in Iraq. It’s been on hold for three years. So we are shifting the training effort to neighboring countries: the United States, the United Kingdom and Pakistan. However, we have a new project to be launched, and that is the Air Force training center. We also have educational programs for pilots to encourage them to maintain their physical fitness. I personally exercise daily to set an example. We have furnished air bases and command centers with modest gyms. Nevertheless, I consider these facilities substandard. We should upgrade gyms and promote exercise as more of a lifestyle than a boring routine.
Unipath: What role has the Air Force played in the fight against Da’ish?
Here are small statistics for the Air Force’s achievements over the past year. From June 2014 to June 2015, we carried out missions that would be nearly impossible even for air forces many times our size. We were able to transport 15,000 tons of military equipment, including weapons, ammunitions and combat gear. In addition, we dropped emergency supplies for the besieged areas when ground transportation was disrupted during the fighting. We fired 1,000 Hellfire missiles with precise hits. We dropped 4,000 bombs via Sukhoi fighter jets. Furthermore, we transported 325,000 troops from Baghdad to fighting near the al-Asad and Speicher air bases. We also conducted 2,000 reconnaissance missions. We dropped supplies for our troops at the Bayji oil refineries for months as they were surrounded by Da’ish but held their positions. These are real achievements for an Air Force like ours with modest capabilities. Without our efforts, Da’ish would have advanced further.
Unipath: What other roles has the Air Force adopted?
At the bequest of his Excellency Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who always emphasizes humanitarian aid, we conducted many missions to airlift tons of food and medical supplies to our Yazidi people who were under siege in the Sinjar Mountains. We also dropped humanitarian supplies for the town of Amerli, which suffered from harsh fighting and lack of road access. Additionally, we dropped food supplies for the residents of Ramadi and Hit. We also transported civilians from Haditha and al-Baghdadi during the intense fighting that took place in those towns; the wounded and sick were removed to hospitals in the stable areas.
Unipath: Describe some remaining challenges.
The challenges that we face are not specific to the Air Force but the whole country. Economic hardships stemming from unpredictable oil prices have a great impact on the Air Force. The Air Force depends on three pillars: money, training and time. These three elements, in reality, are what impact us. Even if we have the funds, it is impossible to rush pilot training and construction of infrastructure. The nation put a massive effort into building the Air Force, but invests in other critical projects as well, like building ground forces and the Navy. The economic challenge is the primary challenge to building a fully functioning air force.
Unipath: How can you reduce sectarianism in your branch of the military?
Speaking as a professional military officer, I have no interest about what politicians say because they have their own agendas. My only agenda is to build a national Air Force that is capable of defending. I don’t look through a sectarian or ethnic lens to select pilots. We have rules and regulations to select pilots that solely emphasize physical fitness, medical exams and high academic achievement. Our policy strictly prohibits any intervention in the process of pilot selection. I don’t believe in ethno-sectarian selection. Aviation is a unique profession and requires individuals who have unique skills and attitudes; therefore, it is not feasible to build capable air power and professional pilots with an ethno-sectarian mentality. Our policy depends on loyalty to Iraq and pilots who represent all Iraqi factions.
Unipath: Do you have any final words for readers?
I am very pleased with the participation of our brothers in the region and our allies in the international forces who continuously provide air strikes against Da’ish. I don’t want to mention names, but the majority of the nations in the region are participating in this war against Da’ish, whether in Iraq or Syria. The regional and international teamwork is progressing, and without their efforts, the situation would have been far worse. I also want to thank my beloved Iraqis. The security forces are your sons, and we all must cooperate and be the eyes and ears to provide valuable intelligence to defeat Da’ish. We must leave all our differences behind and work together to build a secure Iraq for our children. We have no choice but victory against terrorists. I am confident Iraq will prevail, because we are a tough, brave and honest people.