WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – “We are steadfast in our commitment to working side by side with our partners in the Kurdish Peshmerga,” the spokesman for the US-led coalition, Col Myles Caggins, affirmed at a press conference in Erbil on Tuesday.
“We will continue that partnership, and we remain committed to you,” he said, and “committed to helping to protect the Kurdish people.”
Referring to the mission of the US-led coalition, formally known as Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), Caggins stated, “We will find, hunt, and destroy Da’esh remnants with our security partners into the foreseeable future.”
Caggins also noted the significance of the information that the Kurdistan Regional Government was able to provide the coalition in the first days of the fight against the so-called Islamic State, back in 2014.
“Right here in this building, the Kurdistan Regional Security Council provided critical intelligence to the coalition,” he said, and “with this intelligence, the coalition was able to coordinate air strikes.”
The rare CJTF-OIR press briefing in the capital of the Kurdistan Region followed on two key events. The first is the withdrawal of US forces from most of northeastern Syria, after President Donald Trump’s October 6 phone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The second is the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Saturday, as US Special Forces raided his compound in northwest Syria.
The two events, taken together, might suggest that US forces could be leaving the Kurdistan Region in the near future. But Caggins had a clear message: that is not so.
One part of his message was that the death of Baghdadi does not mean that the Islamic State has been defeated. That, indeed, is the position of the Kurdish leadership.
As Masoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, cautioned, Baghdadi’s death is a victory over terrorism, but “it does not mean the end of terrorism.” Barzani called on the international community to continue its “coordination in the fight against terrorism and ending it.”
As Caggins affirmed, “The coalition’s partnership with the Kurdistan Region is enduring. The defeat of one leader, who was hiding, does not end our mission.”
Another, related part of Caggins’ message was that the US remains committed to the Kurdistan Region and its military force, the Peshmerga.
He hailed the Peshmerga as “resolute and fearless fighters,” while noting their sacrifices: over 2,000 dead and 11,000 wounded in the common fight against the Islamic State.
The coalition will “remember that sacrifice,” he said, and “the bravery of our partners in the Peshmerga.”
Caggins seemed to be addressing two audiences. The first, and most important, was the people and leadership of the Kurdistan Region. The second was the other members of the international coalition which are working, alongside the US military and the Peshmerga, in the Kurdistan Region.
“The US is staying, not leaving,” is how Paul Davis, Professor of Cyberterrorism at Washington’s Institute of World Politics, summarized Caggins’ presentation, as he discussed it with Kurdistan 24.
Indeed, a key CJTF-OIR member, the United Kingdom, made a similar affirmation. “We are committed to supporting the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga in countering the threat from Da’esh,” the British Minister of State for the Armed Forces stated during a recent parliamentary session.
Caggins went into unusual detail, as he described CJTF-OIR’s presence in the Kurdistan Region. It marked a divergence from the general military habit, which the US shares: never say what assets you have, where, lest the enemy somehow benefit.
Indeed, Caggins described a broad presence. “Here in Kurdistan, from sector one in the west to sector eight in the east, near Diyala, and at training sites in between, the many nations of the coalition are steadfast,” he affirmed.
Who knew that CJTF-OIR had the entire breadth of the Kurdistan Region mapped out into sectors? Now we do.
Caggins also explained that 25% of those countries making a military contribution to the coalition “operate right here in Kurdistan.”
They “include Finland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands, the United States, Slovenia, Sweden, Australia, and I could go on,” he said, before describing the activities of those countries in working with the Peshmerga.
Providing “some highlights of recent training success,” Caggins noted that “at the Bnasawala Training Center, female Peshmerga soldiers completed a seven week course with German advisers,” in which they learned “advanced weapons and tactics.”
“Canadian advisors have trained Peshmerga on infantry tactics,” Caggins continued, “as well as battlefield medicine procedures” and “Finland’s crisis management team has advised Peshmerga on combat operations in urban areas.”
“We have also funded military training sites and provided equipment” for Bnasawala and three other sites, he noted.
Caggins hailed the “strong relationship” between the coalition and the Peshmerga, noting that CJTF-OIR’s Commander, Lt. Gen. Pat White, had visited Erbil earlier in the week and “other generals in recent weeks” have come to Erbil “to meet with the most senior leaders in Kurdistan.”
Lt. Gen. Robert White today reaffirmed US commitment to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. An important confirmation of support at an important time. Coalition partners must remain united against common threats, including ISIS. https://t.co/TBkYE1vPjq pic.twitter.com/NC13aN0Nwb— Masrour Barzani (@masrour_barzani) October 26, 2019
“That’s a sign of our enduring partnership, as well as the strong personal relationship between the coalition leadership” and the Kurdish leadership, he explained.
As Paul Davis noted, Caggins had a clear message: we are committed to our presence in the Kurdistan Region and recent events have not changed that.
However, there was one discordant note. Caggins was careful to explain that CJTF-OIR was present “at the invitation of the government of Iraq.”
What if Baghdad decides that it no longer wants the coalition to remain in Iraq? That question was not asked at the briefing, so it was not answered. But among many things, Washington would, most likely, much regret its opposition to the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum two years ago.