U.S. Ramps Up Military Aid for Islamic State Fight

The Iraqi soldiers, Kurdish Peshmerga, and Sunni tribesmen battling the militants will get some of the weapons they've long asked for.

Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie /Getty Images
Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie /Getty Images

The Pentagon on Friday asked Congress to approve a $1.62 billion package of guns, ammunition, body armor, trucks, and medical kits to boost the capabilities of the Iraqi Army, Kurdish forces, and Sunni tribes in their fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Details of weapons and other support material included in the Iraq train-and-equip package are part of the Obama administration’s $5.6 billion overseas contingency operations fund to counter the Islamic State and were sent to Congress Thursday and posted on the Defense Department’s comptroller’s website.

Of the total, $1.24 billion will go toward equipping nine brigades of the Iraqi Army, which has been reduced to 10 divisions after at least four divisions melted away when the militants swept across northern Iraq this spring, the Pentagon said. Another $354 million will go toward equipping the Kurdish Peshmerga forces that are fighting to keep Islamic State fighters from pushing into their quasi-state in northern Iraq, and the balance of $24 million will be given to Sunni tribes in Anbar province who being recruited and trained to form national guard units capable of taking on the Islamic State. Sunni tribes helped U.S. forces decimate al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State’s predecessor, during the height of the so-called surge. American officials hope the tribes can now be persuaded to take on the Islamic State, but many Sunni leaders have been reluctant because they believe they’d be outgunned in any fight, fear Islamic State reprisals against their families, and blame the United States for failing to prevent them from being mistreated by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Iraq’s new government, led by the more moderate Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, has asked for help in creating these forces to thwart the progress of the Islamic State, which occupies vast territories in the northern and western Sunni heartland of Iraq, the Pentagon said. The Iraqi government will share in the "cost burden of creating these necessary forces; U.S. assistance levels are limited and are focused on bridging the most critical near-term capabilities consistent with countering ISIL," the Pentagon said, using another acronym for the Islamic State. "Coalition participation and financial support will also be actively sought to share costs."

In the absence of the equipment and training, the Iraqi military forces "will be unlikely to conduct counteroffensive actions in a timely and effective manner and are less likely to achieve success," the Pentagon said. "Arming the Kurds at a comparable level" to the Iraqi Army "will provide them needed capability and will provide interoperability with the Iraqi Army. Training three Kurdish brigades will provide visual proof of American commitment to the Kurdish people and will facilitate our desire for a unified Iraq."

The largest amounts for the Iraqi Army include $317 million for 1,800 cargo trucks, 43,200 M4 rifles, and 45,000 pieces of body armor. Kurdish forces will get 14,400 M4 rifles, 600 cargo trucks, and 15,000 pieces of body armor. Both forces also will get medical supplies and first-aid kits. The Sunni tribes, in contrast, will get 5,000 AK-47 rifles, 12,000 grenades, and 5,000 body armor kits, according to the Pentagon.

In addition to these supplies that the Pentagon is seeking to send to Iraq, Congress plans to re-evaluate Iraq’s earlier request for several big-ticket items — including Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles — after withholding approval for several months because lawmakers worried that Makiki, the former Iraqi leader, could use the weapons against his political opponents or that the arms could fall into the hands of the Islamic State, which captured large quantities of American-provided equipment this summer after defeating Iraqi forces.

With Abadi — a Shiite — promising to run a more inclusive government and offering roles for minority Sunnis and Kurds, the time is now right to re-examine Iraq’s needs, a congressional aide told Foreign Policy.

Read the full request:

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