Kurds Seek Drones, Advanced Weapons to Stop Islamic State

Monday, 18 Aug 2014 11:32 AM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Iraqi Kurds are desperate for drones and other modern weapons to stop the advance of the Islamic State, even though Kurdish fighters have managed to slow the terrorist army in northern Iraq.

After months of Kurdish complaints that they were outgunned by jihadists armed with captured U.S.-made weapons, Washington has begun to provide weapons to replace their depleted stocks. But the Kurds say they will need drones and more sophisticated arms to beat back and ultimately defeat the Islamic State.

The Daily Beast reported that the Kurdish Regional Government has requested armored personnel carriers, surveillance drones, integrated air defense systems and Javelin anti-tank missiles.

The Pentagon has yet to respond to the request from the Kurds, whose peshmerga fighters are in essence the only pro-Western force remaining in Iraq, following the collapse of the Iraqi army two months ago. But a U.S. official working on Iraq policy said it is unlikely that Washington will give the Kurds access to advanced air-defense systems, telling The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake that “they can ask for the moon, but it does not mean they will get it.”

The Obama administration – which largely ignored the Kurds after the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 – has been moving in the opposite direction in recent days.

Washington announced Tuesday that it will send 130 more U.S. military advisors to Iraq, bringing the total number of troops there to more than 1,000. Kurdish fighters are identifying targets for U.S. bombing runs, and the CIA is coordinating arms shipments to the Kurds.

In some ways, this is a reprise of old times for Washington and the Kurds. From 1991 to 2003, U.S. aircraft maintained a no-fly zone over the Kurdish region to protect the Kurds from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Between  the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the withdrawal of the last American soldier in 2011, American Special Operations Forces worked closely with Kurdish anti-terrorism units.

But in 2010, the administration yielded to demands from former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to send all future Kurdish aid through Baghdad.  

“Through the Iraqi government, the United States made commitments to the Kurds for weapons and munitions and other supplies,” said James Jeffrey, U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2010 through 2012.  But “the specific efforts to transfer the equipment were stymied by Maliki and his loyal personnel,” he added.

After 2011, U.S. Special Forces’ cooperation with Kurdish anti-terrorist units ended.     
Recently, however, Washington and Baghdad have taken steps to bolster Kurdish forces with military aid.

“It’s important that the Kurds hold,” one U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal. “And I think everyone in the U.S. government understands that.”

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