As the United States begins its draw-down of combat forces in Syria, Iraq’s air force has been given permission by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to commence combat operations against the remaining ISIS terrorists in the Levant. With this agreement, Iraqi air commanders will be able to plan and execute their own missions without seeking Syrian approval, reports the Military Times. Although Iraqi pilots have flown sorties into Syrian airspace in the past, this new cooperation allows for more flexibility and strengthens the ties between the two nations.

Many of the upcoming strikes are anticipated to occur in the border region, specifically around the town of Abu Kamal. According to Syria’s state-run media outlet SANA, al-Assad met with Faleh al-Fayad, Iraq’s National Security Adviser, to address counter-terrorism strategies near the border. The pair also discussed plans to strengthen diplomatic ties between Syria and Iraq.

The Iraqi Air Force has received significant support from the United States and the allied partners of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) throughout 2018. In February of this year, CJTF-OIR established the Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training Team (CAATT), which is a program that helps train Iraqi Air Force pilots to plan and lead combat missions autonomously. The program also stressed the coordination between Iraqi Army units and their airborne counterparts and included a course to train Iraqi soldiers to direct close air support. Along with leadership and mission planning, Iraqi Air Force staff officers learned vital skills, such as logistical planning and air frame mechanics.

“This coalition team of Airmen will build upon our Iraqi partner’s combat-proven capabilities to ensure a capable, affordable, professional and sustainable Iraqi Aviation Enterprise,” said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces Central Command commander in a press release. “Together with our Iraqi Security Forces partners, we will ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS in Iraq.”

The US-built F-16 constitutes the majority of Iraq’s combat air power; however, the country also flies the Czech Aero L-159. Many of Iraq’s new pilots were first trained by the USAF in the United States and were then sent to Balad Air Base for a finishing school. Since its inception many coalition leaders consider CAATT to be a success.

“I’m impressed with the progress our Iraqi partners are making as they work to improve their combat capabilities,” said Harrigian in March 2018 in a press release. “Throughout the fight to liberate Iraq, the ability to effectively call in air support was a critical enabler as Iraqi ground forces advanced against the enemy. Our efforts to help them hone this and other vital skills will pay dividends down the road as they take the lead in safeguarding their country from threats.”