Peshmerga carried out 7,516 operations against ISIS: Inspector General Report

"The vast majority of the 7,516 operations, 5,651, were carried out by the non-partisan Regional Guard Brigades (RGBs) affiliated with the Ministry of Peshmerga."
Kurdish Peshmerga forces oversee digging of defensive trenches in the village of Lheiban , Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. (Photo: Samya Kullab/AP)
Kurdish Peshmerga forces oversee digging of defensive trenches in the village of Lheiban , Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. (Photo: Samya Kullab/AP)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdish Peshmerga forces have carried out over 7,500 counter-ISIS operations, according to the latest US Defense Department Lead Inspector General report to the US Congress released on Tuesday. 

Citing the US-led coalition against ISIS, the report, which covers the first quarter of 2022 (Jan. 1 – Mar. 31), stated that Kurdish Security Forces (KSF) units conducted counter-ISIS operations on a daily basis across the Kurdistan Region. 

Read More: Peshmerga conducted 1,650 independent operations against ISIS in October-November: Coalition

The vast majority of the 7,516 operations, 5,651, were carried out by the non-partisan Regional Guard Brigades (RGBs) affiliated with the Ministry of Peshmerga (MoPA).

"The RGBs conducted most of the operations, which included presence patrols, clearance patrols, observation posts, erection of temporary checkpoints, and reconnaissance missions," read the report.

Other operations were carried out by forces affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The KDP's Unit 80 Peshmerga carried out 861 operations while the KDP-affiliated Zerevani carried out another 572. Meanwhile, the PUK's Unit 70 Peshmerga carried out 177 operations, and the PUK-affiliated Emergency Response Force carried out 255. 

While the Kurdish security forces can conduct operations against ISIS, there are "markedly different levels of competency and success."

"The RGBs and the 70s (PUK) and 80s (KDP) units are conventional forces that predominantly conduct static defense and ground holding activities, such as manning checkpoints, which CJTF-OIR (Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, the official name of the US-led coalition) described as 'adequate to deter and disrupt significant concerted ISIS efforts at infiltration or facilitation' along a swath of territory known as the Kurdistan Coordination Line (KCL)," the report noted. 

The KCL divides positions held by Iraqi and Kurdish forces. It was created after Iraqi forces, and Iranian-backed units of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) pushed Peshmerga forces from the disputed territories after the Kurdistan Region's September 2017 independence referendum. Since then, there has been a security vacuum in these areas.

"Security in this area is a 'chief concern' for CJTF-OIR because ISIS has long exploited the lack of the security in the area to provide safe haven for its fighters and stage attacks along the KCL and adjacent areas," the report said.

Formation of joint Iraqi-Kurdish brigades slowed down

The report also noted that the stalled government formation process in Baghdad and the resulting lack of a new budget slowed the development of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Kurdish Security Forces (KSF) Joint Force Brigade and the payment of salaries to the KSF.

The US-led coalition has pushed for joint brigades to fill those security gaps created by the 2017 events. 

"The Joint Force Brigade will provide security along the Kurdistan Coordination Line (KCL), where ISIS has exploited gaps in security force presence," the report said.

Read More: Peshmerga-Iraqi army cooperation 'very weak': Kurdish commander

But the Ministry of Peshmerga is still "waiting for funds from the Iraqi government to facilitate training, equipping, and salary payments to the KSF's 20th RGB assigned to the joint force."

Despite the slow progress in forming joint brigades, the report noted that Kurdish and Iraqi security forces continued to carry out joint operations this quarter, including three joint clearance operations and four joint reconnaissance operations. 

Command and Control

However, one of the problems the Ministry of Peshmerga has "is the 'inadequacy' of its operational level of command and control and associated processes." 

This has also limited the ability of the Ministry of Peshmerga to plan and synchronize operations. 

"Therefore, joint operations with the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) are limited to "basic battlespace de-confliction" rather than cooperation on larger effort," the report said.

"MAG (Military Advisory Group) advisers reported some progress toward integrating KSF capabilities, including the establishment of a nascent targeting process that can fuse KSF intelligence and inform operational planning beyond the conduct of small-unit framework operations," it noted. 

Read More: Coalition discuss command and control with Ministry of Peshmerga

The US-led coalition and the Multi-National Advisory Group (MNAG), which includes the Netherlands, the US, the UK, and Germany, have supported reform initiatives to enhance Peshmerga command and control, which would improve the Peshmerga's capabilities.

Peshmerga reform progress

The report also mentioned that the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs continued to transfer partisan Peshmerga units to the Ministry of Peshmerga command as part of the Kurdistan Regional Government's efforts to reform the KSF.

The goal is to reorganize and unify the Peshmerga forces under one non-partisan command. Currently, Peshmerga units are divided, the report said, with some units under the command of the two major Kurdish political parties, the KDP and the PUK, and others under the command of the Ministry of Peshmerga.

The report mentioned the recent progress, such as the Ministry of Peshmerga assuming command of the 2nd Support Forces Command previously aligned with the PUK and the 1st Support Forces Command previously under KDP command.

"These two newly transferred support commands will provide artillery, engineers, armored and anti-tank forces, air defense, and maintenance to the Regional Guard Brigades (RGBs)," the report said.

According to the US-led coalition, this capability "significantly enhanced" the RGB's offensive support, combat engineering capability, and the ability to task and organize basic combined arms units and formations.

Additional units to join Peshmerga Ministry

The US-led coalition reported that the Ministry of Peshmerga was in the process of transferring two additional units to the Regional Guard Brigades during the quarter, one from the PUK's Unit 70 and the other from the KDP's Unit 80.

The US-led "said that the 70s and 80s Units' leadership plans to transfer additional brigades to the MoPA. 

The report said that 47,500 Peshmerga personnel are presently under the command of the Ministry of Peshmerga. The US-led coalition "said that the number was expected to grow with the transfer of the two new units coming from the partisan 70s and 80s Units." 

"Separately, the PUK-affiliated 70s Unit was estimated at 40,000-45,000 personnel and the KDP-affiliated 80s Unit included roughly 63,000-68,000 personnel."

The coalition said the Peshmerga ministry also made progress toward other Peshmerga reforms during the quarter, including implementing an electronic payment system. 

"Eight RGBs (Regional Guard Brigades), two Shingal battalions, and two training centers had transitioned from cash payments to an electronic funds transfer payment system as of the end of the quarter," it noted.