Nearly three years after the last US troops left Iraq, F-16s are returning to Balad — this time, they will be the vanguard of the Iraqi air force.

Balad was a major US base during the war and one of the busiest airfields in the world at one point. Now the US government is helping the Iraqis make sure the base will be ready for the first batch of F-16s, which are expected to be delivered in September, said Lukman Faily, Iraqi ambassador to the US

On Thursday, the Iraqi government took ownership of the first of 36 F-16s fighters that will be delivered between September and the fall of 2017. The fighters will allow Iraq to secure its border with Syria, attack al-Qadia bases in western Iraq — including Ramadi — and intercept any planes transiting its airspace that it wants to inspect, Faily told Military Times on Thursday. […]