Former coalition military spokesperson plans return to Kurdistan

Col. Myles Caggins' famous relationship with Kurds has shaped his future as he joins the Council on Foreign Relations this summer, and plans his return to Kurdistan
US Army Col. Myles Caggins speaks during a press conference in the Kurdistan Region's Erbil. (Photo: KRG)
US Army Col. Myles Caggins speaks during a press conference in the Kurdistan Region's Erbil. (Photo: KRG)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Colonel Myles Caggins, currently Director of Public Affairs for the US Army’s III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas, and former spokesperson for the US-led coalition against ISIS, said in an interview this week that he hopes to return to the Kurdistan Region soon.

Caggins, who was the coalition spokesperson from 2019 to 2020, returned to the United States and was replaced by the current coalition spokesperson Col. Wayne Marotto late last year.

Caggins was based in Baghdad, but also visited the Kurdistan Region and northern Syria during his tenure.

Read More: Outgoing Coalition Spokesman leaves Kurdistan with a love for the Kurds

This week the accomplished colonel spoke with “Kurdistan in America,” the official podcast of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representation in Washington, DC, about his upbringing, lifelong US Army experience, and his encounters with people in the Kurdistan Region and the area of northeast Syria that Kurds call Rojava.

Caggins stressed that he was speaking of his personal experiences, not as a representative of the US government.

In 2018, Caggins finished a fellowship at the prestigious Harvard Kennedy School and was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas. He told the KRG podcast that when he first arrived in the state he was summoned by Paul Funk II, a four-star Army general and then the commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led military component of the anti-ISIS coalition. Funk told Caggins to travel to Baghdad for orientation on the coalition’s operations.

“One year later, in August of 2019, I returned to Baghdad, where I was the senior spokesman for the global coalition, representing the 78 nations and five international organizations, with the mission to partner with the Iraqi Security Forces, the Peshmerga, and the Syrian Democratic Forces to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” Caggins said.

“In that role, I lead a multinational team of communicators. Some of you might refer to them as public relations, I call them ‘words warriors,’” he said. 

Caggins explained: “The type of combat that the soldiers I lead are responsible for is … public information [warfare]. And my goal was to try to dominate the information environment with weaponized truth.”

During a time of increased tension between the US and Iran in Iraq last spring, Caggins said, the coalition’s military commander, US Army Lt. Gen. Pat White decided to hand over Qayyarah, Kirkuk and Mosul bases to full control of the Iraqi security forces.

“This was an opportunity for me to concentrate a little more on the Kurdish regions and Rojava, and this enabled the coalition to continue to build relationships and let local audiences know what we were doing, to show that we were undeterred by the rocket attacks,” Caggins said.

Kurdish Hospitality

During this time period he was able to meet Kurdish reporters from different channels, including Kurdistan 24. Caggins was the first coalition spokesperson to conduct an interview inside the Kurdistan 24 studio in Erbil.

“This was where I started to realize that the Kurds were looking forward to what I might have to say about how their forces were still standing up and fighting ISIS and capturing terrorists,” Caggins said, adding that he was “was welcomed into people's homes, people listening to the radio in taxi cabs or at their office places, and have extended those relationships to my time here in the United States.”

“And I think that's what led us to having this podcast together as, again, I left Iraq in September 2020, but here we are today in May of 2021, and I'm continuing to deepen these relationships across all of Kurdistan,” he added.

Moreover, he said was fortunate to serve with a Kurdish-American citizen, Tanya Aziz, who is still serving as a senior cultural advisor to the coalition’s military commander in Baghdad. “The coalition has been commanded by three star lieutenant generals for several years and Tanya has been there since 2017,” Caggins said.

Aziz, a Kurd from Suleimani, told Caggins that she would bring him to the Kurdistan Region’s capital to meet people “in my culture.” In addition to her duties supporting the military command, Aziz helped the spokesperson with media strategy, and to build relationships with both the Peshmerga and Syrian Democratic Forces.

As a result, he met with Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) director Shakhawan Miro Lashkri at the Erbil Air base. “He sat me down and said, ‘I want you to learn some of the history of the Peshmerga, and I want you to learn some of the culture of this region.’ So over a lot of chai with sugar, I sat and listened and listened,” Caggins said.

He recounted telling his parents, who were worried about his safety overseas: “This part of the nation of Iraq is much different, and people are extremely receptive. I have high confidence that the Peshmerga, Zerevani and Asayish will not let anything happen to Americans and members of the coalition.”

The “same feelings that were shared by my colleagues from Germany and Holland, the United Kingdom, France, Finland, and Italy, who all have a large presence in Iraq's Kurdistan Region for training and advising,” Caggins said.

He explained, “I've grown to really really love kebabs. I love the kebabs from the region, and have had a chance to eat them, not only in Erbil, but also Slemani, and in Syria in Ramalan and Hasakah.”

After his return to the United States, Caggins continued to meet Kurds and recently met with Sinam Mohammed, the head of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) in her home in Washington. He said he was with a Kurdish family from Zakho in Dallas, Texas last weekend.

“I had a great time breaking bread, and sharing conversation and exchanging cultures, cultural experiences and sharing my story as they shared so much of their story too.”

“And I don't take this lightly. It's quite an honor to be treated as a guest with the famous Kurdish hospitality,” Caggins told Kurdistan 24, saying he hopes to have more opportunities to visit Kurdish people’s homes in the US and Kurdistan Region as the Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control and travel opens again.

“I think I also have the unique ability to transcend, mix and mingle with Kurdish people from all backgrounds, and it doesn't matter if somebody is a high-level government official or if there is a rural person who's just making it through life. I don't have any favorites and I don't have any political affiliations,” he said.

“I’ve met people from Afrin all the way to Halabja and all along the way I've been able to form these little friendships and associations over social media or also to meet them and their families here in America and it's quite an honor. It's very cool. And I learned from everybody and I hope to share a little bit of my story, my family's background in America and talk to recent immigrants and people abroad too.”

Return to Kurdistan

This summer the colonel will move from Texas to New York City for a fellowship with the Council on Foreign Relations, one of the world’s leading think tanks. 

“While I'm there I will write about Kurdish affairs and information warfare, based on my experiences as coalition spokesman, but also through others who I've met in the United States and across social media,” he said.

And Caggins hopes to visit the Kurdistan Region again and continue to meet people from all different backgrounds. He explained that international policy makers, academics, and business leaders should seek greater understanding of the history, economic opportunities, and strategic importance of the Kurdistan Region.

“This won't be the last time you hear from me,” he said. “I don't actively seek out media opportunities, but I'm always happy to visit the region and while I'm there I'll definitely talk to the press – I would never say ‘no’ to my friends.” 

“Friendships and education are my first priorities, but I am considering long-term professional opportunities too.” 

He added that he already has “a bunch of invitations” to travel all over the region, “to a lot of unique places in cities, small villages, resort areas, and the most populated regions.”

“I’m looking forward to going back,” he said.

Caggins says he has already been invited to visit families in Barzan, Zakho, Amed, Shush village, and Kobani. 

“I’m a friend to people of all Kurdish regions, all socioeconomic status, all ages, all dialects, all religions,” he concluded.

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly