Kurdish Peshmerga Needs More Equipment From the West

Last week the effectiveness of Kurdish operations conducted with U.S. support was exemplified by a raid on an ISIS prison in Hawija, near Kirkuk. Sixty-nine hostages were saved, with more than 20 ISIS fighters killed and several captured alive. Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler sustained mortal wounds after heroically supporting our Kurdish peshmerga forces who had come under heavy fire, and in Kurdistan we mourn his loss as one of our own.

Kurdish coordination with the U.S. extends far beyond this operation. The U.S. and coalition partners conduct daily airstrikes on ISIS, bolstering peshmerga positions and destroying heavy ISIS equipment to clear the way for peshmerga assaults. The coalition Train and Equip program is preparing three Kurdish brigades for action. Weapon systems donated by the coalition, such as the German MILAN rocket, have saved hundreds of peshmerga.

But more can and should be done. In particular, the West and the U.S. should do more to support the peshmerga. To continue to succeed on the battlefield, the peshmerga need everything: from basic tactical gear like helmets, night vision binoculars and trauma medical packs to heavy assault equipment like tanks, armored personnel carriers and TOW missiles.

Since August 2014, peshmerga forces have regained and taken about 95 percent of Kurdistani territories lost to ISIS. In addition to the successful operations throughout that part of Iraq, Kurdish forces have engaged and worked alongside political and tribal groups, such as Iraqi Security Forces and regional Sunni tribes. When it comes time to liberate Mosul, the peshmerga will play a role alongside these other forces and the coalition.

The Kurdistan Regional Government is a secular bulwark against religious extremism in the region, and a decades-long ally of the West. Kurdistan has proven to be a positive force in the Middle East, the sine qua non of any formula for renewed stability in Iraq and beyond.

The ISIS advance through Iraq has profoundly affected Kurdistan in every aspect. Our population has swelled by 30 percent with the arrival of Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqis seeking safety. We have lost over 1,300 peshmerga soldiers, and are caring for another 7,000 wounded. The government in Baghdad has been unable to deliver our constitutionally guaranteed 17 percent of the federal budget, causing months of delays in payments to all government employees, including frontline peshmerga, teachers, and police. It is unfortunate that in recent weeks there has been some unrest as some of our citizens have expressed their frustrations.

Simultaneously, our nascent democracy is undergoing serious internal debates regarding the future of our society. These debates have sometimes become partisan and very heated. But as the Ministry of peshmerga, we have encouraged the political parties to resolve their issues expeditiously. Throughout this political crisis, our military posture and capabilities have remained unchanged. Structural reforms to unify peshmerga units continue unabated, building on the 12 brigades already operating under the sole command of the Ministry of peshmerga.

The generous contributions from the Coalition have allowed us to repel ISIS from Kurdistan, save hundreds of thousands of lives, and halt a genocide against religious and ethnic minorities. Even so, we need more support. Our ammunition stores remain low, and we lack enough heavy assault equipment, armored vehicles, and modern tactical gear to clear additional territory.

The world has seen that the peshmerga is the most effective ground force opposing ISIS today. Together with our American and international partners, we will degrade, defeat, and ultimately destroy the savage terrorists of ISIS. To make that a reality, however, the US government and its western allies need to provide the peshmerga with the equipment it needs and deserves.

Hazhar Ismail is director of coordination and international relations for the Kurdistan Regional Government, Ministry of Peshmerga.