NEW YORK – A U.S. contractor in Iraq told WND the Iraqi Air Force has begun evacuations from Balad Air Force Base, where 200 American contractors were trapped by the al-Qaida-inspired jihadists who have seized control of two cities and are now threatening Baghdad.
A contractor with Sallyport Global, who asked not to be named, told WND through a Skype instant message that he was transported from Balad to Baghdad and was communicating from a C-130 preparing to take off to Dubai.
He said 300 in total have been evacuated from Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, and another 100 are still awaiting airlift. He said the Iraqi Air Force is trying to evacuate everyone by midnight local time.
WND previously reported Friday that private contractors who have recently returned to the U.S. from Iraq said their former colleagues effectively had been abandoned by the U.S. military and were fighting for their lives against an army of jihadists surrounding the base who belong to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
The U.S. contractors were at Balad to help the Pentagon prepare the facilities for the delivery of the F-16 aircraft the Obama administration has agreed to provide the Iraqi government.
The surrounded Americans said they were under ISIS fire from small arms, AK47s and rocket propelled grenades, or RPGs.
The contractors had been able to hold the base, but those on the scene reported it was only a matter of time before the ISIS terrorists succeeded in breaking through the perimeter. The sources confirmed the contractors were still under siege, despite an Associated Press report Thursday, citing U.S. officials, that three plane loads of Americans were being evacuated from Balad.
WND learned from sources that the jihadists closed down escape routes, and the U.S. Air Force was in a stand-down position. U.S. forces were not assisting even with air cover so a private extradition flight could land for a rescue, the sources said.
Privately scheduled exit flights had fallen through, sources said, as several private pilots originally scheduled to make the flights quit.
The sources contended the U.S. military could provide the necessary air cover to protect C-130s or other air transport craft sufficient to make the evacuation, but so far officials had refused to get involved.
Balad Air Force Base has been under attack since Wednesday, when ISIS rebels seized the nearby town of Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein.
The attacking ISIS forces approached the base in trucks Wednesday and called through loudspeakers for all private security forces and Iraqi special military to leave immediately or die.
The U.S. private contractors in touch with WND reported that after hearing the broadcast, the private security forces and the Iraqi military defending the base dropped their weapons and ran.
The American contractors collected the weapons left behind and were able to hold off further immediate advances.
More to come …