Supplying Kurdish Fighters: An Overview


2014-09-09 By Julien Canin

With a fluid and dynamic situation in Iraq and Syria, and under the pressure of ISIS successes, the international community has woken up to the need to help the Kurds survive and prevail in the fight with ISIS.

And with the Kurds clearly willing to include various minorities being beheaded, destroyed or threatened by ISIS, the Kurds are becoming a political force of note as well in shaping any post-ISIS Iraq.

Clearly, arms will be transferred to the Kurds by various means, but what this article does is to identify what is publicly available with regard to the supply of arms and support to the Kurds from the international community.

The purpose of these operations is to rebalance the situation in terms of weaponry, with Peshmergas facing Islamic State’s modern weapons, mainly American, looted in Iraqi army bases, and the Kurds operating with mainly decades-old Soviet weapons.

As the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Deputy Prime Ministre Qubad Talabani stated, “Our weaponry cannot be compared to the weaponry that ISIS has, but we have the heart, the spirit, the bravery, and we have the dedication required to win this fight.”

One American defense analyst has noted that an ironic aspect of the COIN strategy pursued in Iraq is that “the US Army has become the unwitting supply master for the Isis.”

France and United States are two key players.

For the later, deliveries are limited to small arms, their ammunitions and mortars rounds ammunitions, a Defense official told to Fox News “The Department of Defense has not provided direct arms to the Kurds and has no plans to do so in the future.”

In parallel, the U.S. has sent about 400 military advisers, in addition of other troops dedicated to the protection of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and applied more than hundred aerial bombing in support of the Peshmergas.

Delivery was made by the CIA, which is better positioned to supply the Peshmergas with Russian-made guns like AK-47s.

In early August, France was the first European state sending arms to supply Kurds, without details about the type of armaments.

One of Kurdish peshmerga stands guard on the edge of the city of Kirkuk. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
One of Kurdish peshmerga stands guard on the edge of the city of Kirkuk. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images 

But, in regards of the same previous cases, Libya in 2011 and Syria in winter and spring 2013, France delivered assault rifles, shoulder-fired rocket launchers, ammunitions for light weapons and for .50 machine gun’s caliber as well as some non lethal equipment like night-vision goggles, body-armor or radios.

An official source told the French newspaper Le Monde, that the French delivering contain “weapons immediately usable, which do not require training or maintenance.”

The United Kingdom, the other normally active European military power, has chosen an intermediate way, and has delivered nonlethal supplies and helped to transport ammunitions provided by other states.

The last operation included two RAF C-130 Hercules to deliver nine tons of 7.62mm ammunition as well as nonlethal equipment (body armor, helmets and sleeping bags).

But the Brits seem to move their stance, as Prime Minister David Cameron offered last Thursday to expand assistance; Britain could begin to supply weapons directly to Kurdish forces.

According to Reuters, Italy may begin deliveries by September 10th.

Indeed, Defense Minister Pinotti recently told to the parliament that, once final arrangements with Iraqi authorities are completed, fly will start.

Shipments will include 200 machine guns, 2,000 rocket propelled grenades and 950,000 rounds of ammunition.

One source of these Soviet-made weapons procurements is peculiar, since it comes from weapons seized at sea during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Denmark follows the same path, and will fly  one C-130 Hercules carrying 55-person military team with emergency aid and weapons directly to Northern Iraq.

No details were given about the type of weapons carried

The European Union has indicated support for arming the Kurds.

As the Council Conclusions stated,

The Council also welcomes the decision by individual Member States to respond positively to the call by the Kurdish regional authorities to provide urgently military material. Such responses will be done according to the capabilities and national laws of the Member States, and with the consent of the Iraqi national authorities. The EU will assess how to prevent ISIL benefitting from oil sales and condemns those funding the ISIL in contravention of UNSCR 1267 and subsequent resolutions. The Ministers invite the European External Action Service to ensure a stronger presence in Erbil.”

The position of the German diplomacy was stronger, as government allowed, for the first time since the end of World War II, to sent weapons into an ongoing conflict.

For more details about Germany, see a previous article:

Three former East-bloc’s States answered the Kurdish call: Albania, Croatia, and Czech Republic.

Moreover, these countries are well equipped for this task, using or still having USSR’s stockpile, the same equipment used by the Peshmergas.

Albania is sending 22 million rounds of ammunitions, 15,000 grenades and 32,000 mortar missiles.

It should be noted that the transportation would be carried out by the Royal Australian Air Force’s C-17A Globemaster, as on two previous occasions.

For its part, Croatia will procure arms left from the end of the last war in the former Yugoslavia.

The first tranche of Czech Republic supply has been approved by the government and planned for September 14th, declared Lubomir Zaoralek, Czech Foreign Minister.

From old reserves that military does not need longer, Czech Republic will send 10 million rounds of ammunition for AK-47 assault rifles, 8 million rounds for machine guns, 5,000 rounds for bazookas and 5,000 hand grenades.

The cost of the first delivery is over 40 million korunas [or $2 million], but it is gratuitous on our part,” added Zaoralek. U.S. high-capacity planes will assure transportation, the total weight being over 500 tons.

In August, the Czech Foreign Minister had already noted that government would consider the possibility to use private firms rather the state warehouses for this task.

And, of course, Iran with a major stake in Iraq is trying to play an expanded role.

Indeed, during a news conference (August 26th) with Iranian Foreign Minster Mohammed Zarif, KRG President Massoud Barzani stated “The Islamic Republic of Iran was the first state to help us…and it provided us with weapons and equipment.”

Officials said that is a turning point in long tense relations between Kurdistan and Iran.

Zarif added “The Iraqi people require assistance, including defense assistance, but no soldiers. We do not have any soldiers in Iraq, we don’t intend to send soldiers to Iraq.”

However, some sources explain that there was an Iranian military presence in a number of different sectors of Iraq, part in advisory role, part in active fighting role, e.g. the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Pasdaran), M-60 tanks of the regular Iranian Army appeared to join them in Northern Iraq.

In short, the situation in Iraq and Syria is clearly in play.

And an important factor is the conflict between ISIS and the Kurds and the role of outside powers in aiding the Kurds and working to defeat ISIS.

This is a very fluid and explosive situation.

Julien Canin has received a French law degree and a master’s degree from the Universite Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium).

He has worked with both the French Political Party UMP on foreign and defense issues and with the Ministry of Defense recently at the Eurosatory conference.

Julien following Iraqi developments for us and will provide additional reports in the future.