German State Secretary of Defense Markus Grübel tours an urban warfare training exercise conducted by foreign advisers for Peshmerga Saturday, April 11. Photo by Campbell MacDiarmid.
The Peshmerga have made remote-controlled German anti-tank rockets their weapon of choice in neutralizing Islamic State suicide bombers, and one of Berlin's top defense officials was in Erbil this week to ensure more rockets were on the way.
Markus Grübel, the German state secretary of defense, told Peshmerga soldiers Saturday Germany is sending the Iraqi Kurdish forces 500 more MILAN anti-tank rockets and 30 rocket launchers. He said Berlin would also be sending more panzerfaust rockets, G-3 and G-36 assault rifles and ammunition. Grübel was visiting Kurdistan to observe German military instructors training Peshmerga in urban warfare techniques.
As the war against the so-called Islamic State grinds on, suicide bombings have become a favored tactic by ISIS and the MILAN rocket launcher is the best defense against them, according to frontline Peshmerga troops who place them at the top of their list of demands for more equipment. Ongoing losses for ISIS are causing the jihadis to increasingly rely on suicide truck bombers or vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs).
“Daesh are on the defensive across the country,” said a high-ranking coalition official in Baghdad, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “They are no longer capable of fighting in formed units.”
Capt. Mohamed, a 41-year-old platoon leader in the 4th Battalion of the 6th Peshmerga Brigade, said he had observed this trend while stationed at the frontline at Tel Awad near Kirkuk.
“At first they had modern weapons and were strong fighters,” he said. “Now they are getting weaker, their main weapon has become suicide bombings.”
In one instance, Mohamed said an armored truck laden with explosives approached their position. “They shot 10 rocket propelled grenades at it but it kept coming,” he said. “Then they fired one MILAN and it stopped.”
Withdrawn from the front for a month to receive training from German military instructors, Mohamed said the additional MILAN rockets would be welcomed. “It's a good weapon but there are not enough of them on the frontlines,” he said. “We don't have any in our platoon.”
A video published online last month shows an ISIS suicide bomber approaching Peshmerga lines in a truck.
“The MILAN is on its way,” a voice in the video cries as a rocket is fired at the vehicle. After several more rockets are fired the truck erupts in an enormous fireball. “It exploded!” a voice shouts as the Peshmerga soldiers celebrate.
The remotely guided rockets are steered via a wire linked to the launcher's sight and are effective at ranges up to 2,000 meters.
“The system is nearly 40-years-old but is still very effective,” said one of the German military trainers.
Germany first supplied 30 MILAN rocket launchers and 500 rockets in September last year and sent Peshmerga to Germany to receive training in their operation. Col. Jochen Schneider, who heads the German military contingent in Kurdistan, said between 40 and 50 Peshmerga have already received training in using the MILAN and 30 more would be sent to Germany for training.
The gradual supplying of weaponry is part of a deliberate German strategy to avoid arms inadvertently falling into the wrong hands, Grübel said. “We provide smaller deliveries so the terrorists don't have the chance to capture large weapon caches.”
When ISIS overran Mosul last summer, fighters captured large amounts of equipment from fleeing Iraqi armed forces that were originally supplied by the United States.
At the conclusion of his visit, Grübel thanked the Peshmerga for fighting ISIS on behalf of the world. “My impression is that our training and equipment has been helpful and it was the right decision to supply it.”