ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Western countries including the United States are training Kurdish peshmerga forces in Iraq to fight Islamic State militants who have overrun around a third of the country.
Outgunned and untested for years, the Kurds failed their first major test on the battlefield last month, when IS militants overran their positions in northwestern Iraq, prompting air strikes by the United States.
Since then, at least eight countries have begun arming the Kurds, whose Soviet-era weaponry proved ineffective against insurgents flush with military hardware plundered from the Iraqi army after it abandoned its posts in June.
“What the peshmerga are being trained in is the new arms they have received,” said peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hikmat. “Some of the countries that have sent us weapons are instructing them, including the Americans.”
More than 100 instructors from Germany, Canada, Australia and United States are now on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan, teaching the region’s peshmerga forces how to use the new weapons.
Hikmat listed the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Australia, Britain and Czech Republic as the countries that had so far sent weapons to Kurds.
A separate Kurdish political source who wished to remain anonymous said the weapons included anti-tank missiles from Germany and machine guns such as M-4s and M-15s.
The Kurds want heavier weapons such as tanks but have yet to receive such items, the source said.
Britain is also training the Kurds how to defuse improvised explosive devices, which IS militants have planted in areas where they have been pushed back.
Helped by US airstrikes, the peshmerga have been regaining ground from IS in recent weeks, driving the militants away from the border of their region towards the city of Mosul.
The United States and several Gulf Arab allies launched their first air and missile strikes on IS strongholds in Syria on Tuesday, opening a new, far more complicated front in the battle against the militant group.