Balad, Iraq, Aug 27 (CTK special correspondent) – Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka met the Czech soldiers who have been training Iraqi pilots of Czech-made L-159 Alca combat planes at the Balad military base north of Baghdad at the close of his two-day visit to Iraq today.

Iraqi pilots with the L-159s have taken off more than 150 times to attack about 500 targets within their fight against IS radicals so far.

Many of them recently fought in Tall Afar, a northwest town and IS stronghold, the recapturing of which the Iraqi government forces announced on Saturday after several days of intense fighting.

“I have heard much praise about our supportive military team…I think this wonderfully promotes the Czech Republic and, of course, in pragamatic terms, it also means promotion of Czech armament companies and of potential further Czech defence industry supplies to the Iraqi military,” Sobotka said.

About 30 Czech soldiers help eight Iraqi pilots who use L-159 Alcas to fight IS radicals, and Iraqi technicians in charge of the planes’ maintenance.

Iraq has bought 12 Czech redundant 159s. The deal was mediated by the planes’ Czech producer, Aero Vodochody.

There are 10 of them at the Balad base now. One plane is being overhauled and one serves for Iraqi pilots’ training in the Czech Republic.

The Czech soldiers are to assist in the training of pilots and technicians at the Balad base until December 2018 at least.

Apart from them, Sobotka met Iraqi Air Force commander Anwar Hamad, who told him that the Iraqi military will use the Czech L-159s “until the last man” to defend their homeland.

Apart from the aviation instructors, five Czech police officers stay in Iraq within an international mission to help train their local counterparts. In September, they will be joined by four specialists from the Czech military police.

rtj/mr