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To Defeat Islamic State, Kurds Say They'll Need Bigger Guns

The Kurds are receiving weapons from the US, France, and others — but military leaders say they still can't match the firepower of the Islamic State.
Photo by John Beck

The weaponry being supplied by the US to the militia forces of Iraqi Kurdistan is not powerful or modern enough to defeat well-equipped Islamic State militants, according to senior Kurdish officers.

The US began shipping weapons to Kurdish peshmerga fighters last week after the Islamic State — which seized a large swathe of northern Iraq in June when the militant group was still known as ISIS — advanced to within 20 miles of the semiautonomous Kurdish region's capital.


Peshmerga ministry spokesman General Halgurd Hikmat told VICE News that troops had received only "basic weapons" like small arms and ammunition, and in amounts sufficient only to "refresh" the peshmerga stockpiles rather than improve their firepower. "These supplies are not effective to fight ISIS," Hikmat said. "We need new weapons and we need strategic weapons and vehicles."

'The Islamic State' — watch the full-length documentary here.

In an unprecedented move, the central Iraqi government in Baghdad has delivered ammunition from its own stocks to the Kurds, and Hikmat said the US supplies were delivered in conjunction. "The aid comes direct from the US with central collaboration from the government. We get arms from the Iraqi government and US at the same time."

Peshmerga forces are mainly equipped with Soviet-era Russian-made weapons looted from the Iraqi army during the 2003 US-led invasion. But when Islamic State fighters overran the country's second-largest city, Mosul, they were able to seize arms supplied to the Iraqi Army by the US. These include tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, and huge supplies of ammunition.

Photo by John Beck

Ali Faté, a peshmerga veteran who now commands the front at the town of Makhmour, where there has been heavy fighting, told VICE News that US supplies had not yet reached his men. However, he also said that ammunition and small arms was not enough to counter the Islamic State. "We need heavy and strategic weapons," he told VICE News. "This is a war of heavy weapons, because they have a huge quantity of weapons, including large guns and armored vehicles."


A US Department of Defense spokesman confirmed to VICE News that weapons were being supplied to Kurdish forces, but officials did not respond to questions about the method or size of the supply. During an August 11 press briefing, however, Lieutenant General William Mayville told reporters that "there's some weaponry that they [Kurdish forces] need to have that can reduce technical vehicles. Some of the ISIL [Islamic State] forces have a longer-range weapons system, so we need to make sure that the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces are providing longer-range weapons themselves… to the Kurdish forces."

The Kurdish Regional Government had already made a request for such ordnance. The Daily Beast previously obtained a wish list sent by the Kurdistan Regional Government to the Pentagon, which included Javelin anti-tank missiles, high-tech air defense systems, armored personnel carriers, and surveillance drones.

Photo by John Beck

In Erbil, a number of sources report that more advanced heavy weapons are already being delivered, accompanied by foreign instructors. Peshmerga officials deny this.

Arms will likely be forthcoming from other sources, and may have already arrived. On Wednesday, French President François Hollande announced that France would begin supplying weapons to the peshmerga in a matter of hours. "France has already made arrangements for several days to support the operational capability of the forces engaged against the Islamic State," Hollande's office said in a statement. "To meet the urgent needs expressed by the regional authorities in Kurdistan, the president has decided, in agreement with Baghdad to deliver weapons in the coming hours."

The Czech Republic will also arm Iraqi Kurdish forces, Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek announced on Monday, with the specifics to be worked out by the government. According to a local media report, the agreement could include the supply of weapons through private companies.

'The Islamic State' — watch the full-length documentary here.

The US had already opened joint operations and intelligence-sharing centers in Baghdad and in Erbil to assist in the fight against the Islamic State. President Barack Obama also authorized US air strikes against the militants last week. A number of targets were subsequently hit, helping the peshmerga to halt the Islamic State's advance and retake some lost ground.

Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck