Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
The House Armed Services Committe passed an amendment by Republican Congressman Don Bacon that would support the transfer of air defence systems to the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga. The vote came during a markup of the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual piece of legislation that sets the budget for the Pentagon.
The Peshmerga are fighters in Iraqi Kurdistan. They work with the Iraqi security forces and receive arms and financial assistance from the US.
Iraqi Kurdistan is relatively stable but last year the region witnessed an escalation of violence as both Iran and Turkey launched air strikes against Kurdish groups operating in the area. The Kurdish regional government of Iraq (KRG) allows Iranian Kurdish groups to operate in the region but also maintains ties with Tehran.
The US combat mission in Iraq ended in December 2021, but roughly 2,500 troops are in the country – mainly in the north and Baghdad – serving in an advise and assist capacity via an agreement with the government of Iraq.
Around 900 US troops are stationed in northeast Syria working alongside Kurdish forces. The official justification for the US presence is the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force, which Congress passed after the 11 September attacks to combat the militant group al-Qaeda.
The US presence in Syria has become a back-burner issue, but with few American casualties and Washington’s foes and Iran and Russia entrenched in the country, efforts to end the US footprint have not gained traction in Congress.
One of the main concerns among lawmakers appears to be how the war in Ukraine might impact Washington’s ability to arm its closest Middle East ally. In January, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon had tapped into its military stockpile in Israel – known as WRSA-I – to provide artillery shells to Kyiv.
An amendment in the House NDAA calls on the Pentagon to provide a report on the status of US stockpiles of precision-guided munitions in Israel. Lawmakers want to know the “quantity and type of munitions” the US transferred to Ukraine and what the Pentagon will replace them with in order to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge against its neighbours.
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