Hundreds of armored trucks the U.S. military donated to Kurdish forces are finally reaching the front line as the Peshmerga fight Islamic State (ISIS) militants for control of Mosul in northwestern Iraq.
Peshmerga forces are set to receive a brigade’s worth of vehicles and equipment to bolster their ongoing fight with ISIS. The gear includes mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles the U.S. military has stored since formally exiting Iraq in 2011, according to Army Maj. Gen. Richard Clarke, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq for Operation Inherent Resolve.
“That equipment is moving up,” Clarke told reporters Feb. 23 during a live teleconference from Baghdad. It is “specifically designated for the two Peshmerga brigades that we agreed to train as part of our strategy…That equipment is arriving now and we will be equipping those brigades in the future.”
The U.S. government donated around 250 excess MRAPs to the Iraqi military in 2015, at least 25 of which were supposed to go to Kurdish forces. Those vehicles were reported delivered to the Iraqi security forces in early 2015.
Equipping Iraqi and Kurdish forces to fight ISIS is a major element of U.S. and international contribution to the regional struggle that includes Syria, its beleaguered Assad regime and its Russian backers. A spokesman for the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve in 2015 said $2.3 billion has been laid out to equip forces fighting ISIS, of which $1.6 billion is U.S. dollars.
That bill represents at least 400 MRAPs and armored Humvees, 2,000 AT-4 anti-tank rockets, 10,000 M-16 rifles, 5,000 sets of body armor, millions of rounds of ammunition and 450 metal detectors, among other items, the spokesman said.
Clarke is the outgoing commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq and will return stateside in a couple weeks after an eight-month deployment to Baghdad. His soldiers are in charge of training, equipping and advising Iraqi security forces in their fight against ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.
U.S. soldiers also coordinate airstrikes in direct support of Iraqi government forces. The core group of U.S. troops in Iraq, at least for the past nine months, has been about 400 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division. They will be replaced soon by a contingent from the 101st Airborne Division, which already has some forces in Baghdad, Clarke said.
“Over the last nine months, we have seen Iraqi security forces have significant successes and we’ve seen noticeable progress that will lead to the eventual defeat of Daesh,” Clarke said. “The enemy are under simultaneous pressure here in Iraq as well as in Syria.”
Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces have pushed ISIS fighters from Sinjar, Ramadi and other cities. U.S.-backed forces also have been able to repel organized offensives by concentrated ISIS forces in and around Mosul, he said. The Iraqi security forces have not ceded ground to ISIS since losing Ramadi in May 2015.
U.S. troops have trained over 16,000 Iraqi security force personnel and another 4,000 Peshmerga and provided them with advanced weapons including Humvees and mine-clearing rollers. Another 2,000 local and national police have been trained with another 1,000 officers in the pipeline, Clarke said.
In support of those forces, U.S. unmanned aircraft have flown more than 20,000 hours of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sorties, Clarke said.
“This ISR has enabled about 4,000 Iraqi-approved airstrikes that have been done in direct support of Iraqi security forces by providing direct assistance to those in the fight,” he said.