Germany and Sweden to Send Troops and Increase Aid to Kurds Battling ISIS

Von Leyen meets Kurdish Forces
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (2nd R) greets Kurdish forces female recruits at the Zeravani Training Centre in Bnaslava near Arbil, north of Iraq January 12, 2015 Maurizio Gambarini/REUTERS

The German and Swedish governments have announced plans to increase military aid to Kurdish forces battling Islamic State in Iraq. During a press conference in Baghdad, German defence minister, Ursula Von Der Leyen said: “I believe it’s right to extend our support with great care,” adding, “we know that the Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] aren’t just fighting for their own country but for all of us.” Germany is expected to send 100 military trainers to the Kurdistan region, after a vote in favour of the move last December.

According to the American institute for Contemporary German Studies¸ Germany has already equipped Kurdish troops in northern Iraq with over 8,000 pistols, 8,000 Assault  Rifles, 10,000 hand grenades and over 200 anti-tank weapons.

Over the weekend, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström also announced she hoped her country would send military personnel to Iraq to help train soldiers. Wallström spoke to European news outlet the Local saying: “The government is now looking into the possibility of proposing to the Riksdag that Swedish military personnel be sent to Erbil, Iraq, to help train troops fighting [ISIS].” Although she added that “this isn’t about sending combat personnel”.

She later told Swedish media that Germany may lead the training mission, with contributions from Finland as well.

Meanwhile, British efforts to increase aid to the fight against ISIS have stalled. The defence secretary, Michael Fallon, announced in December last year that hundreds of British troops would be sent to Iraq in early 2015. Interviewed in the Telegraph, Fallon talked of the need for ground troops after the success of the campaign of coalition air strikes. “They [ISIS] are increasingly tucked away in towns and villages,” he said. “That means they have got to be rooted out by ground troops.” However a report by the Daily Mail earlier this year said that the MoD had admitted that it would not be ready to send ground troops within the timescale previously given, quoting sources inside Whitehall as saying that "Downing Street does not want any news of UK troops heading for Iraq overshadowing the election campaign”.

James Gray, the Conservative MP for North Wiltshire who sits on the Committee on Arms Export Controls, believes that the government should renew its efforts to support anti-ISIS forces. “I visited the Kurdish fighters in Northern Iraq just before Christmas and went to see the very good work that the British army is doing together with the Danes in Sulaymaniyah.” When Fallon announced the plan to introduce British ground troops in December, Gray remarks, “we all welcomed that very strongly”. Despite the stall in that plan, Gray remains trenchant in his position. “I think a number of us are going to bring pressure to be on the Ministry of Defence, to make sure they do what they said they were going to do.”

On the Peshmerga, Northern Iraq’s Kurdish Fighters, Gray said: “They’re very very brave, we must do all we can to give them support.