Iraqi Kurds call for foreign ground troops in anti-IS fight

AP News
|
Posted: Feb 04, 2015 10:30 AM
Iraqi Kurds call for foreign ground troops in anti-IS fight

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — A senior Iraqi Kurdish official on Wednesday called for greater support in the battle against the Islamic State group, including with foreign troops, saying the Kurds are "alone" in the fight.

Fouad Hussein, chief of staff to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, said the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes are helpful but "to finish ISIS ... you need to finish it on the ground. And on the ground, we are most of the time alone. So we need partners."

"It means advisers, it means special forces, it means a collective fight against ISIS, it means equipment, it means munitions," Hussein said.

Though IS fighters have been forced to retreat from Kobani, the strategic town on Syria's border with Turkey, the battlefield picture suggests they are far from beaten in northern Iraq, where harsh winter weather and thick mud underfoot hampers military moves. The Kurdish peshmerga fighters have struggled for months to inch ahead, backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, which began in northern Iraq on Aug. 8.

Several coalition countries have provided arms to the Kurdish forces but many of those weapons have not yet been delivered to soldiers because most require additional training.

Last month, Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi echoed Hussein's sentiments in an interview with the AP, saying that while airstrikes had been effective, on the ground, there is a sense of Iraqis being on their own in the fight against the Sunni militants. The prime minister also called for an "acceleration of the training, acceleration of the delivery of arms."

However, al-Abadi has repeatedly emphasized that Iraq will not accept any foreign troops on Iraqi soil, saying Iraqis alone will fight the Islamic State group, which currently holds about a third of both Iraq and Syria.

Jaber Yawer, a spokesman for the peshmerga fighters, told journalists Wednesday that almost 1,000 Kurds have been killed in the fight against the IS since June, and another 5,000 were wounded. He added that 38 peshmerga troops are currently missing and are most likely being held hostage by the militants.