First aircraft were delivered to the Soviet Air Force in June 1974. Next it became the main Soviet strategic transport aircraft. From 1976 it was operated by Aeroflot.
Between 1979 and 1991, the Soviet Air Force Il-76s made 14,700 flights into Afghanistan, transporting 786,200 servicemen, and 315,800 tons of freight. The Il-76 carried 89% of Soviet troops and 74% of the freight that was airlifted. As Afghan rebels were unable to shoot down high-flying Il-76s, their tactics were to try and damage it at take-off or landing. Il-76s were often hit by shoulder-launched Stinger and Strela heat-seeking missiles and large-calibre machine-gun fire, but because the strong airframes were able to take substantial damage and still remain operational, the aircraft had a remarkably low attrition rate during the period of conflict. Building on that experience, the bulk of the Canadian Forces equipment into Afghanistan is flown in using civilian Il-76. In 2006, the Russian Air Force had about 200 Il-76s. Civilian users in Russia have 108.
On August 3, 1995, a Il-76 piloted by a Russian crew was forced down by a Taliban fighter plane sparking the Airstan incident.
In 2004, a Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Il-76 carried out flight mission in Afghanistan, later in 2011, PLAAF Il-76s were sent to Libya to evacuate Chinese citizens. The two missions were reported first steps of PLAAF developing long-range transportation capacity.
On 23 March 2007, a Transaviaexport Il-76 was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile while taking off from Mogadishu, Somalia. Everybody on board, 7 crew and 4 passengers, were killed.
Syrian Air Force Il-76s, operating as civil Syrianair aircraft have been reportedly used to ship weapons, money and other cargo from Russia and Iran to Syria, according to a defected Syrian military pilot. Since the start of the rebellion, in April 2011 (and up to July 2012), around 20 military flights have been conducted to and from Tehran, via Iraqi airspace. Further information exposes that since around 2012, Syrian Il-76s have regularly flown to Moscow's Vnukovo Airport to fetch shipments of Syrian banknotes that have been useful to Bashar al-Assad's regime to survive international sanctions.
On 14 June 2014, a Ukrainian Air Force IL-76 was shot down by ground fire from pro-Russian separatists while on approach to landing at Lugansk, resulting in the deaths of 40 soldiers and 9 crew members on board.