Kurdish advisor to Coalition Commander awarded with Defense Medal for the Global War on Terrorism

Tanya Aziz, 42, a Kurdish citizen from the United States and the Coalition Commanding General’s Cultural Advisor, was awarded the US Secretary’s Defense Medal for the Global War on Terrorism during a Coalition press conference in Erbil on Sunday.
author_image Wladimir van Wilgenburg

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Tanya Aziz, 42, a Kurdish citizen from the United States and the Coalition Commanding General’s Cultural Advisor, was awarded the US Secretary’s Defense Medal for the Global War on Terrorism during a Coalition press conference in Erbil on Sunday.

Aziz worked with the US Department of Defense for 18 years, and with the Coalition for four years. “I believe I am the first American and Kurdish civilian to receive this award. Certainly, for the global coalition,” she told Kurdistan 24.

During Col. Myles Caggins’ last press conference in Erbil, he said many people had helped him during his job as Coalition spokesperson since August 2019. “But one person exceeds them all; I would like to formally introduce you to my friend Tanya Aziz, she is the Coalition’s Commanding General’s Special Advisor for Cultural Affairs, Politics, and the people of this region.”

He quoted a famous Kurdish proverb that emphasizes gender equality: “A lion is a lion, whether it’s a man or a woman (Şêr şêr e; çi jin e, çi mêr e).”

“Miss Aziz is…a lion: she is majestic and magnificent; nothing can stop her from advocating for Kurdistan and the people of this region. I come here as an American stranger with no friends in this region, and I speak only one language. And she saw that I needed help, and she said okay, Colonel, we need you to be successful in your job and she helped me to connect with the extraordinary people in Iraq and Syria,” Caggins stated.

One person she introduced him to was Islamic State expert Hisham al-Hashimi in Baghdad, who was killed by unidentified assailants in July 2020. “We will forever remember his impact and his contributions to make the world a safer place,” Caggins said.

Read More: Iraqi terrorism expert, Hisham al-Hashimi, assassinated in Baghdad

Aziz also accompanied Col. Caggins as an advisor on several trips in the Kurdistan Region, including to Sector Six with top Peshmerga general Sirwan Barzani and the Korek mountains. She also accompanied him in Sulaimani in a visit to the 70s Peshmerga commandos and an important high-level meeting with top Peshmerga General Sheikh Jafaar. It also included several small trips to northeastern Syria.

“She’s very humble, but today I want to put a little spotlight on her for a moment. She is an expert in defense, diplomacy and counter-terrorism,” Col. Caggins said. 

“The medal is from the Secretary of Defense and signed by Lieutenant General Pat White (the head of the US-led Coalition against ISIS) and was presented by Col. Myles. Myles was also the one who requested the Medal,” Aziz told Kurdistan 24 on Monday.

“As a result, the US Secretary of Defense Medal for the Global War on Terrorism was awarded to Aziz for her outstanding contributions to the military Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” Col. Caggins told Kurdistan 24.

“Since 2017, she has directly advised four consecutive Coalition military commanders during the difficult fighting against ISIS, and the recent repositioning and downsizing of Coalition troops. She has in-depth knowledge and insights on the people and politics of Iraq and Syria. She is a bridge-builder for the Coalition’s senior military officers and Iraqi government, security, and academic experts. Being tri-lingual helps her convey the context of what is said in high-level leadership meetings, and what’s trending in the news and Social Media. Ms. Aziz is the only person in the Coalition headquarters with these superior credentials,” Col. Caggins added.

During the press conference, Caggins said Aziz, and her family, who were born in the Kurdistan Region, “had to move many times because they were forced out of their houses (during Saddam’s Ba’ath regime attacks on the Kurds). But inside of her she always had a great spirit of determination and she overcame the adversity of growing up as a Kurd, and now she is an American citizen, she sets a great example for me, and all people around the world, and for you my sister I will always be a mountain (an indirect reference to the famous Kurdish proverb, that Kurds have no friends but the mountains).”

Aziz, who is originally from Sulaimani, added that her uncle’s wife came from Halabja, and shared many “stories of our lives with Myles: war after war, displacement, and being refugees. The Halabja chemical gas attack (in 1988) is something I will never forget, and our neighbor lost most of his family, and relatives in the attack, and brought lots of bodies home in a military truck. I saw it all happening.”

Read More: Halabja Chemical Attack: Kurds mark the tragedy on its 31st anniversary

The Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal was established by an order of US President George W. Bush on March 12, 2003, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

The medal was established to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of civilians working for the Department of Defense in direct support of the armed forces, whose members are engaged in operations to combat terrorism in all forms throughout the world.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany