When this came out, it was a ‘question’ who was doing it….
The Obama administration has begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces who have started to make gains against Islamic militants in northern Iraq, senior U.S. officials said today.
Previously, the U.S. had insisted on only selling arms to the Iraqi government in Baghdad, but the Kurdish peshmerga fighters had been losing ground to Islamic State (IS) fighters in recent weeks.
U.S. air strikes have been key to redressing the balance over weekend, allowing Kurdish forces to retake two towns yesterday in one of their first victories since the uprising began in June.
…with question in scare quotes because, as Ed Morrissey put it: “Three guesses who’s arming the Peshmerga, and the first two don’t count.” Also via Ed is apparent confirmation that it’s the CIA:
CIA is now providing weapons directly to Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Northern Iraq, officials tell @JimMiklaszewski
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 11, 2014
And if you’re wondering where the CIA gets the guns and ammo from in the first place… well, that’s actually not important. I’ve been reminded that the stuff that the peshmerga are using right now isn’t standard US military issue; resupply can be handled via the CIA’s existing relationships with international arms dealers. The really interesting thing here is that I have yet to see the phrase ‘end-user certificate’ used in this situation. For those wondering, an end-user certificate is a promise that the recipient of the guns that somebody (in this case, the US government) providing isn’t going to go out and sell / trade /equip anybody else. The certificates are quite often flat-out lies, but useful ones. That the CIA is apparently simply arming the Kurds without that paperwork is significant*. [As in,] State-Department [style] significant.
Then again, very few natsec people in the US government below the White House level were really taken by surprise by recent events in Iraq, and (hopefully) almost all of them are on-board with the idea that it’d be a good idea to keep our local client state well armed and supported. The US military can take over resupply, once it gears up. The CIA has been building up its capacities in Kurdistan** since the fall of Mosul:
A supposedly secret but locally well-known CIA station on the outskirts of Irbil’s airport is undergoing rapid expansion as the United States considers whether to engage in a war against Islamist militants who’ve seized control of half of Iraq in the past month.
Western contractors hired to expand the facility and a local intelligence official confirmed the construction project, which is visible from the main highway linking Irbil to Mosul, the city whose fall June 9 triggered the Islamic State’s sweep through northern and central Iraq. Residents around the airport say they can hear daily what they suspect are American drones taking off and landing at the facility.
Expansion of the facility comes as it seems all but certain that the autonomous Kurdish regional government and the central government in Baghdad, never easy partners, are headed for an irrevocable split _ complicating any U.S. military hopes of coordinating the two entities’ efforts against the Islamic State.
Basically, the grown-ups are now in charge of our Iraq policy for the first time since, oh, January 19th, 2009. And we have taken one more step towards putting troops back in Iraq. Because while it’s nice that the Kurds have infantry and the US Air Force, they’re going to need more tanks and artillery and a bunch of other heavy hardware (and stuff that we make, not the increasingly-older relics of the old Soviet empire). That’s probably beyond the CIA’s capacity, but not the military’s. But that will require more… ‘advisors.’
Yup, scare quotes again.
Moe Lane (crosspost)
*The end-user certificate thing has been a problem. See here. Essentially, the increasingly-unstable Maliki government (which is about to become a ‘regime’) has been blocking the Kurds from getting them.
**If this maybe-coup in Baghdad keeps going on, expect that country to appear on the international scene with all due speed. And possibly expand, because there’s a bunch of places where it can without angering anybody that matters.