WATCH: US Commander of anti-IS coalition hails Peshmerga

“The Peshmerga were instrumental in stopping the onslaught of (IS) in 2014 and 2015.”

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, hailed the contribution of the Peshmerga to the battle.

Townsend, who is nearing the end of his tour of duty in Iraq, spoke Thursday by video conference from Baghdad to the Pentagon press corps.

Responding to a question from Kurdistan24, he explained: “The Peshmerga were instrumental in stopping the onslaught of (IS) in 2014 and 2015.”

At that time, the Iraqi Army—six divisions—simply collapsed.

“Across much of northern Iraq, it was the Kurdish Peshmerga who held the line,” Townsend stated, adding, “They’ve been holding the line ever since—for three years.”

“People probably don’t have a good appreciation for this, but I certainly do,” he said. The Peshmerga are “defending, still, across hundreds of kilometers of Iraq, in contact with (IS) every day.”

The commander also described the Peshmerga’s “incredible work” in liberating Mosul, especially in the first stages of the military operation.

The Peshmerga “made the initial attacks” to advance the forward line of troops toward Mosul. Those attacks, then, allowed Iraqi security forces to “make their assault” into Iraq’s second largest city.

Townsend praised the unprecedented cooperation between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army. The Peshmerga “coordinated very effectively and constructively with the Iraqi security forces,” he said.

Iraqi security forces were allowed to stage their attack on Mosul from territory that the Kurdish fighters controlled.

In addition, the Peshmerga “liberated a number of towns and villages around Mosul,” he continued.

Furthermore and just as importantly, they have been containing IS fighters in the “Hawija pocket,” south of Kirkuk for the past nine months.

The Peshmerga also played a significant role in containing IS in the Turkmen city of Tal Afar—the full liberation of which was announced on Thursday by Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.

Townsend explained that the Peshmerga estimate they have killed between 130 and 170 IS fighters fleeing Tal Afar, at the cost of some losses to their own forces.

The US commander described yet one more example of the dirty way that IS fights.

The Peshmerga were trying to let women and children escape the battle in Tal Afar, but “instead, female (IS) suicide bombers exploded themselves,” killing Peshmerga soldiers.

The Peshmerga have “held a stalwart defense” north of Tal Afar. They have “shaped the battlefield there and attrited the escaping enemy to a significant degree,” Townsend said.

As he concluded his response, he described himself as “pretty happy with the contributions of the Peshmerga.” Townsend added, “There will be more contributions, as we look towards Hawija, which is contained to the east entirely by the Kurdish Peshmerga.”


Editing by G.H. Renaud