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Commander: Peshmerga don't have enough weapons in ISIS fight

Commander: Peshmerga don't have enough weapons in ISIS fight
© Reuters/NDN

The United States' closest fighting partners in Iraq don't have enough weapons in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the commander in charge of a training center for the Kurdish peshmerga says.

"I think it's never enough ... and of course, they need more," German Col. Bernd Prill said Thursday when asked during a briefing whether the peshmerga were "well enough equipped" to defend a 650-mile front against ISIS. 

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"It's not enough for 1,000 clicks. It's the truth. ... I think it's better than nothing," he said of the weapons they currently have, adding that the shortage was in "quantity, not quality." 

U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been pushing the Obama administration to send U.S. military support directly to the peshmerga instead of waiting for approval from the central government in Baghdad first. 

They say the government in Baghdad — which is controlled by Shiites and fears empowering other groups in Iraq — has not allowed for enough weapons to flow through.  

Lawmakers on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees have been leading the charge to directly arm the peshmerga. 

House Armed Services Committee lawmakers succeeded in getting language into the 2016 defense policy bill that would arm the peshmerga directly under certain conditions. 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously last week to authorize the direct delivery of anti-tank weapons, long-range mortars and other weapons. 

Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said they have been asking for those weapons from the U.S. for the past two years. 

"Of the 170,000 Kurdish fighters, 30 percent are female — are women in these battalions — fighting with weapons that are often hand-held weapons that are 20 years old," he said Thursday during a roundtable briefing. 

"Why did they not receive them? Because of the pressure from [Iran]. This administration felt compelled to run weapons through Baghdad. If you run weapons through Baghdad, those weapons will not be received by the Kurds or the Yezidis or the Sunni tribes," he said. 

"If we are going to defer constantly to Baghdad, we are essentially going to be deferring constantly to Iran," he added. 

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday visited with peshmerga in northern Iraq, praising their performance in retaking Sinjar and other territory from ISIS. 

"The Kurdish peshmerga have been exactly what we have been looking for in this whole fight in Iraq and Syria," he said. 

Carter said the U.S. has been arming the peshmerga, as have 12 other countries. 

He added that the next major U.S. shipment is equipment to arm two brigades that will assist in the retaking of Mosul. 

Defense officials say U.S. forces in some cases physically deliver military aid to the peshmerga, but it is still subject to the approval of Baghdad. 

"Everything we do here, of course, in Iraq ... recognizes that this is a sovereign country and that is one government in Baghdad," Carter said. 

"But there are lots of other things as well, and again, we're not the only ones who provide that equipment. But they deserve it, because they're effective on the ground and effective in fighting," he added.