While U.S. airstrikes have had some effect – it’s not known how great – on the Islamic State’s jabs into mountainous territory where fleeing Iraqi civilians have stranded themselves in flight before a murderous land grab, many outside observers have been surprised at the relative ineffectiveness of Kurdish forces in the region at beating back the jihadists.
Vice News has put together perhaps the most thorough reporting package on the unfolding catastrophe in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, embedding a cameraman with Islamic State terrorists and affording the world a look at their operations from the inside. Vice’s five-part video essay on the Islamic State is required viewing for anyone wishing to glimpse the fanatical psychology driving the well-funded, well-organized and utterly relentless “caliphate.”
You can link to the landing page for their video series here.
On Wednesday, Vice reporter Hetav Rojan followed up on the video dispatches with an interesting piece breaking down the relative weakness of the Kurdish Peshmerga – the army of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq thought to offer the best local resistance to the Islamic murderers.
The Kurds’ lack of resistance, despite the Peshmerga’s best effort, boils down to inferior weapons, inferior logistics, lack of experience in fighting the Islamic State’s unique brand of warmonger, and poor cooperation between the Kurds’ two rival political parties.
Here’s a sample from that piece, focusing on the Islamic State’s weapons superiority:
While the peshmerga is technically one force, the two main political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both have their own affiliated peshmerga groups. Both KDP and PUK forces have large stocks of Soviet-era weapons, vehicles, and artillery at their disposal.
When Saddam Hussein fell from power, the peshmerga was able to capture significant amounts of the Iraqi army’s battle tanks, howitzers, and sizable stock of small arms. However, a source from within PUK’s peshmerga told VICE News that spare parts for armored vehicles and artillery are scarce, making it hard to maintain offensive capabilities. Then there’s a very real shortage of small arms ammunition and artillery rounds, so the peshmerga forces are starting to lose the upper hand in battle.
The fall of Mosul on June 10 also meant a remarkable equipment upgrade for the Islamic State (then known as ISIS), as the Iraqi government’s roughly 30,000 soldiers abandoned their bases, leaving behind a massive cache of US-supplied armored vehicles and heavy weaponry. This hardware made its way to frontlines in Syria and elsewhere in Iraq, bolstering the Islamic State’s rapid annexation of the Mosul Dam and Sinjar.
Even though the peshmerga can easily outgun the Islamic State in numbers, the Sunni fighters may nullify that advantage with their better-quality weapons and more effective tactics.
Here’s Part 1 of Vice’s video documentary. You can watch all 42 minutes of their Islamic State piece here.