Coalition Spokesman: We continue to work with the Peshmerga
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Col. Myles B. Caggins III, Spokesman for the US-led Coalition in Iraq, explained to Kurdistan 24 how the Coalition was continuing to work with the Peshmerga, despite problems created by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Last week, Peshmerga Special Operations Commandos, working with Coalition Special Operations Advisers,” carried out “an operation near Makhmour,” and “during that operation against ISIS,” Caggins noted – “against an ISIS sleeper cell – the Peshmerga Commandos requested an air strike.”
“Coalition jets – from France – provided an airstrike, and boom—destroyed an ISIS cave,” Caggins said in a live interview on Monday.
“This type of cooperation will continue,” he affirmed.
Caggins also noted that the Coalition had recently provided new uniforms for 13 Regional Ground Brigades of the Peshmerga. He described it as part of a long-standing Coalition effort to unify the Peshmerga command under the Ministry of Peshmerga.
In addition to promoting a justified pride among Kurdish forces, “all Peshmerga and Zeravani will look the same from Sector 1 all the way through Sector 8, on the border with Syria,” Caggins said.
Caggins emphasized that the so-called Islamic State now was nowhere near the force that it once had been, in 2014, when it suddenly emerged to occupy nearly a third of Iraq and threaten both Erbil and Baghdad.
The Spokesman noted that ISIS had announced it would escalate attacks during the month of Ramadan. “They had some capability to do small attacks” and “hurt security forces,” as well as “innocent farmers,” but “overall ISIS has been a failure,” he said, as he affirmed that ISIS “cannot hold physical territory anymore.”
Indeed, on Tuesday, the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) announced the death of one more major Islamic State figure, an Iraqi, who had once been the ISIS “governor” of Iraq. That followed the announcement a few days earlier of the arrest of another Iraqi, once touted as a successor to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi cleric who provided a religious face to the terrorist group, and who died last October, when US forces raided his hide-out in Syria’s Idlib province.
As Caggins told Kurdistan 24, the terrorist group has “been a failure because of the overwhelming response by the security forces – including the Peshmerga, the Iraqi Security Forces, CTS, as well as the Syrian Democratic Forces – to keep putting pressure on ISIS with Coalition support.”
Training of Iraqi forces, including the Peshmerga, has been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Caggins explained. “Many of the Coalition trainers and mentors have gone to their home countries, but they’re waiting for the conditions to come back into the Kurdistan Region to resume training,” he said.
He emphasized that ensuring the Islamic State’s permanent defeat was the focus of Coalition efforts in Iraq, “our mission,” as he put it. There are, to be sure, some groups that “make threats against the Coalition, against the United States, frankly,” Caggins acknowledged, and he described one way that the Coalition is dealing with that: through its partnership with Baghdad.
“The government of Iraq, the leaders, have strongly condemned attacks on Iraqi bases that host Coalition troops,” he stated, “and they conduct investigations.”
“We’re fortunate to have a strong working relationship” with the Iraqi Security Forces, and “groups that want to conduct terrorist attacks will be dealt with by the Iraqi Security Forces,” he said.
The second way that the Coalition has dealt with the threat from rogue militias is by consolidating its presence in a few large bases: Erbil and Al-Assad Air Bases, in the Kurdistan Region and Anbar Province, as well as Camp Taji, some 20 miles north of Baghdad.
The consolidation of Coalition troops was made possible by the success of Iraqi forces in fighting the Islamic State, but it is also a force protection measure. This has created a nearly unprecedented situation in the history of US-Kurdish relations. The Kurdistan Region is now, openly, a major US security partner, home to a major Coalition base.
Caggins also described the interaction between Coalition and Russian forces in northeast Syria. Noting that Kurdistan 24 has viewers in Qamishli and Rmelan, Caggins said that people there “are able to see the presence” of “Coalition patrols with the Syrian Democratic Forces.”
He noted that Russian forces also operate in the area, “but we have a process, where we deconflict.”
“We discuss our patrols with the Russians,” Caggins explained, and they do the same with the Coalition. It is “a constant process.”
“We talk to the Russians every day—telephone, e-mail, and they talk to us,” because “we do not want anything in northeastern Syria to escalate.”
“We are there to help the SDF, to protect the people in Hasakah and Deir al-Zor Province from Da’esh,” he concluded, “and that’s our sole focus.”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany