Friday, June 13, 2014

BLACK JUNE - the former U.S.A.F. super-base at Balad, Iraq goes down

Iraqi Airforce -  F-16 Fighting Falcon shoulder patch
F-16 Fighting Falcon patch woven for the Iraqi officers
training with the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tuscon, Arizona.

BALAD - A massive airforce base that cost American taxpayers billions to construct and to maintain, has just fallen.

How did it come to this?  Less than two weeks ago the public relations folks at Lockheed Martin were blitzing the media with gorgeous photos of the F-16s in Iraqi Airforce colours, and crowing about their imminent delivery into the hands of Iraqi pilots.  Now the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is on the verge of collapse and the multi-billion dollar sale of warplanes is rendered meaningless. Certainly not 'too little', the Falcons are nevertheless 'too late'.  On Wednesday the U.S. State Department said the additional $838 million support program is on "indefinite hold"and that American contract workers were being evacuated from Iraq.  Just 48 hours later the situation is proving to be even more incredible.

First, some background. Until Lockheed sent out its press release with colour photos, most people were unaware of the fact that Iraqi airmen (most are high ranking officers) had been undergoing intensive training on F-16s with the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tuscon, Arizona. The average citizen simply does not follow the business of arms sales and base construction. The U.S. had competed with the Russians and Koreans  for Iraqi warplane business, which is intended to replace an entire airforce destroyed in war.  The Maliki government has ordered Russian helicopters and Korean ground-attack aircraft, but clearly the Americans got the juiciest contract. And what would be new home of the Iraqi Fighting Falcons?  It was to be Balad air base just north of Baghdad - the former U.S.A.F. super-base which was only relinquished to Iraqi national control in 2011, although secret U.S. drone operations continued from a dark corner of the sprawling facility.   The first two Iraqi F-16s were scheduled to arrive in September, with two-per-month delivery until the initial order of 18 was complete.  American contractors were already onsite at Balad prepping the base to become a Falcon roost,  ultimately to host 96 birds in hardened aircraft shelters. The bunkers which until recently protected American assets.   

Iraqi Airforce  F-16D Fighting Falcon - Lockheed Press handout
Iraqi Airforce F-16D goes vertical. Lockheed P.R. photo release.

Hundreds of thousands of United States service personnel know Joint Base Balad very well indeed.  When the U.S.A.F. decided to locate its Expeditionary Wing at Balad, billions of dollars were invested in a complete rebuild, and in fortification.  "JBB" occupies 25 square kilometers (nine square miles) and is ringed by a 20-kilometer security perimeter so well designed that press handouts described it as "a fortress". (see map) The perimeter is probably all that saved the contract work force this week, because many in the base security force bugged out.  Balad was the second largest American base in Iraq and it is still as well equipped as many bases in the continental U.S.A.  As of tonight it appears to be lost, and almost certainly we will soon see some cruise missile and drone strikes intended to demolish some of the more sensitive installations. 

Click on photo to enlarge

So who were those trapped at Balad airbase by  the advancing columns of militants known as I.S.I.S.  Islamic State in Iraq and the (Levant) Syria?   Contrary to the dis-information being willfully circulated by news outlets today, (the L.A. Times for example) most of them are employees of Contrack International Inc., a company headquartered in Maclean, Virginia and which is very tight with the U.S. military.  Contrack, one of several firms working under Michael Baker International,  was responsible for building many highly sensitive installations in Afghanistan and it dispatched very experienced personnel to Balad, because the basing of F-16s was a priority project. In spite of the $$billions already poured into Joint Base Balad, the latest upgrade required eleven additional buildings.  No doubt there were secret components to the contract, intelligence related,  as JBB was formerly launching area for strike drones targeting the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We know that a U.S. training detachment was at Balad as late as yesterday, instructing Iraqi personnel in drone operations.  Senior Project Manager for BALAD is David Rutherford, who is actually not an American. He is South African and still keeps a home in Durban. No doubt he is with those evacuees who are resting safe in Baghdad tonight.  It must have been a harrowing two days for him.

David Rutherford, Senior Project Mgr., F-16 Support Facilities, Balad, Iraq
A South African national,  David Rutherford is Senior Project Manager 
at BALAD, prepping it for the basing of the F-16D  Fighting Falcons.  

BALAD, Iraq - Iraqi  Airforce Base near Baghdad - June 2014
BALAD AIRBASE MAP -  On June 12, and under intermittent fire from Islamic militia,
Iraqi Airforce C-30s extracted two-thirds of the American contractors working at the base.
Click on photo to enlarge.


CNN Headline, June 12 -  "Terrorists Stealing Control of iraq"
No Wolf, not "stealing".  They are winning control of Iraq.

The black banner of I.S.I.S.  has been displayed this week at dozens of sites in Iraq.

It was only late today that the first details emerged of the rescue of civilian contractors trapped inside the superbase at Balad. The news agencies have alluded to trapped employees and the U.S. State Department had, on Wednesday admitted the problem, but details were lacking. Clearly the crushing news of whole Iraqi cities being captured left scant room for thought of other prizes, such as the vast bases paid for by the American taxpayer, and defended at great sacrifice by American servicemen.  The conduit for first hard news was a website called WND, which received information from Americans who were communicating via the Internet with friends trapped at Balad airbase. Such personal communication contradicted an A.P. report that hundreds had already been evacuated from the base. There is always the possibility that it was not error but military disinformation. The salient point was that American citizens were boldly accusing the Iraqi army of having fled the base, and worse, accused the U.S. Government of having "abandoned" hundreds of  citizens who were about to be over-run by the most ruthless jihadists on the planet.  This after a week of nauseating political theatre in which the United States President (POTUS) blathered on and on about "never leaving a man behind". 


According to further word, 300 contractors and U.S. government employees were finally airlifted out of Balad on Friday, not on Thursday. Given the enormous size of the base, which sprawls over more acres than many American cities,  it was a reasonable precaution to "herd" foreign personnel into protected zones close to a runway.  The base had been under siege by I.S.I.S. guerrillas since Wednesday,  and as the Iraqi army had abandoned much of the base defences the civilian foreigners had armed themselves and were defending themselves. The attackers, so far, have nothing heavier than A.A.A. mounted on vehicles and the ubiquitous R.P.G.s, but it is only a matter of time before captured Iraqi army weaponry is brought to bear.  A perimeter breach was anticipated.

On Twitter, a fellow named S. Danel, who self-idenifies 
"South African" claims airfield defenders were South African.

[Note - One unsigned message was posted on a CNN forum by a contract worker inside Balad. He said that civilian Americans had been "herded" into a secure area and left in the dark about their possible Evac. He made no claim of contractors defending themselves... so the truth of what went down is very murky indeed.]

The evacuees give full credit to the Iraqi Airforce which supplied C-130 transports to extract the workers. It is apparent that the U.S. employers, Contrack International and others, had attempted to lease civilian planes, but due to the fact that Balad was taking fire, and the U.S. government was refusing to intervene, the pilots reneged on the job. At last Iraqi military pilots came through. As darkness fell  a further 100 foreigners were still waiting for rescue, but one must assume they are out by now. Flight time from Balad to one of the Baghdad airports is only a few minutes.  The I.S.I.S. fighters must understand that after all Westerners have fled the base, it may be hit by American missiles when the Obama government OKs the strikes.  It would be pointless to linger inside Balad, beyond the time it takes to loot the base.

Confirmation earlier Friday night, that the last Americans,
and hopefully one South Africa, are out. Balad is abandoned.

Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing at Joint Base Balad in 2008
TRUE LIES. In better times Joint Base Balad was so safe
that even the Governor of California could safely pay a visit.

Louis C.K. performing at Joint Base Balad, December  2008
MASTURBATION. In better times even Louis C.K.'s 
"fat ass" was safe to perform at Joint Base Balad.

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