The United States has begun urgently shipping weapons to the Iraqi Kurdish forces battling an advance by extremist Islamic State militants, the State Department said Monday.
“The Kurds need additional arms. We are providing those and working to provide” more, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.
“The government of Iraq has made deliveries from its own stock to the Kurds, and we are working to do the same, in coordination with all the relevant parties,” she said.
Separately, the US military confirmed that it had carried out another air strike late Sunday against an IS convoy it said was preparing to attack Kurdish forces protecting their capital Arbil.
Harf said the effort had been under way since last week, but did not say which US agency was leading the effort or how many and what type of weapons had been sent.
President Barack Obama had long hesitated over a larger US role in Iraq, including major arms shipments to the peshmerga, after withdrawing troops.
Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces guard the frontline during clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants …
But Obama ordered air strikes after the Sunni Muslim extremist group Islamic State approached the Iraqi Kurd capital Arbil, where the United States maintains a consulate and other facilities.
Efforts to support Kurdish peshmerga forces could complicate the United States’ ties to the Iraqi government in Baghdad, which is also fighting the Islamic State but has tense relations with Arbil.
But Harf insisted that, in the current crisis, the two sides are working together and that the United States was coordinating “very closely” with the Baghdad government on arming the peshmerga.
“We’ve seen a really unprecedented level of cooperation between the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga and the Kurds that we really hadn’t seen before,” she said.
US Lieutenant General William Mayville, briefing reporters on Iraq, said of arming the Kurds: “We are looking at plans at how we can expand that support.”
US Central Command said that at 2000 GMT Sunday “US fighter aircraft struck and destroyed several vehicles that were part of an ISIL convoy moving to attack peshmerga forces defending Arbil.
“All aircraft exited the strike area safely,” it added.
Obama authorized air strikes on Thursday, warning that IS extremist militants were in a position to threaten US personnel in Arbil and commit “genocide” against minority religious groups.
The first US action was confirmed on Friday, part of what the White House insists will be a “limited” campaign to protect Arbil and Yazidi refugees.