Coalition airstrikes are effective, but holding ground in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant requires dedicated infantrymen — and the Kurdish peshmerga is providing them, according to coalition officials here.
Just two weeks after swearing in as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. visited Kurdish President Massoud Barzani here today.
“I hope coming here so soon after I assumed my new position indicates to you how important this endeavor is to us,” Dunford said at the Kurdish White House. “And up front I want to thank you for your cooperation and compliment you on the bravery of your forces.”
Coalition Training Effort
About 300 coalition service members from Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Hungary work at the Kurdish Training Coordination Center here. The effort there is under Italian command.
The effort trains peshmerga fighters in a modified infantry basic course. “We currently have 4,200 peshmerga in training,” said a senior coalition officer speaking on background. The officer briefed reporters traveling with Dunford.
Essentially, the effort works like this: peshmerga units come off of the front line with ISIL here, and then they get a few days of rest and relaxation before entering training. They train together as a unit for five or six weeks, before re-entering the battlefield against ISIL.
“We are able to tailor the training to the units,” the officer said. Units fighting ISIL near Mosul have different requirements than those in Kirkuk, the officer noted.
The time off the line allows the peshmerga to reinforce skills they need, understand the capabilities of new weapons systems that are entering the peshmerga system, and to work together as a unit.
Marksmanship, counter-ground tactics, combat medicine, and maneuvering as a unit are just a few of the military skills the peshmerga soldiers are being taught here. They also learn to be forward observers.
Training Paying Off
There are three training areas, and the command could train up to 5,000 peshmerga personnel at a time.
The front line against ISIL is only 60 kilometers from Irbil. “There are many changes” in the 45-minute drive to the front, said the officer. The coalition soldiers work with peshmerga leaders before they come to training to understand what the unit needs, and afterward, they re-enter the line to find new, more effective ways to deliver the training.
Improvised explosive devices cause most of the peshmerga casualties – roughly 80 to 85 percent – and coalition personnel are working constantly to teach tactics, techniques and procedures necessary to counter this threat, the officer said.
The officer said the peshmerga are a brave, dedicated and coherent force.
“They are the front line,” he said. “What is happening up here is working. It takes time to build this kind of capacity — especially as a coalition. I think we are picking up speed and I think it is being reflected on the front line, as well.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)