Does the Training of Peshmerga Forces Help Against Hybrid Warfare?
How satisfied are you with how the training is progressing? How good is communication with the Kurdish fighters?
I am highly satisfied with the training. We can see, too, that the Ministry of Peshmerga is satisfied with the training. We do of course tailor our training content to what the Kurds need. For example, we have just recently increased our training periods to 25 days because the Peshmerga Ministry said: “We really like what you’re doing. Make the course longer.” Firstly, this is a confirmation that the training we are providing here is exactly what is needed; and secondly, it is a good example of how closely we are coordinating with the Peshmerga.
Together with our international partners, we have trained more than 4,000 fighters in total – out of which we Germans have trained 800. That is good. But we can also see that more training is still needed.
What is working well, and where are there major conflicts in terms of culture, training, and the people involved?
The Bundeswehr does have experience with training missions in different cultural settings. We provided training in Afghanistan, and we are currently doing so in Mali and here in Iraq. We adapt ourselves to the circumstances and the people. We are welcome guests here, and we want it to stay that way. So we respect people’s customs. And we learn more every day. For me personally, for example, it is incredibly moving to see how many thousands of refugees Erbil has taken in.
Is Erbil a safe environment for the training project?
Erbil is a real boomtown. It is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world. It is a city of more than a million people that has steadily grown throughout its history. The international soldiers are welcome, especially us Germans, and the people are very friendly toward us. On the whole, I get the impression that everyone here is very considerate of each other. The whole region, after all, is shouldering the burden of accommodating and caring for thousands of refugees. It is very impressive to see.
Needless to say, there is also a fundamental danger. We are aware of it and are taking it very seriously. And, of course, we must adapt to this danger as well.
What special challenges are there in this mission for the soldiers?
Of course, this mission has its pressures, including being far away from home and separated from one’s family. But everyone knows how important the task here is. When we see the Kurds fighting a defensive war, or the many refugees in the city, then we are happy to accept the challenges that a mission like this brings.
In terms of hybrid warfare, can the effects of the new war strategies – namely, a mix of cyber warfare, cyber espionage, asymmetric warfare, drones, the IS and media/propaganda – be felt in the area?
Our mission is purely a training mission. Our task is to train the Peshmerga for their defensive battle against the terrorist organization that is the “Islamic State” (IS). We follow developments closely and have come to realize what methods the Islamic State uses to spread its messages around the world. It makes use of every distribution channel currently available. Of course, this has a certain impact.
To what extent does training the Peshmerga also help to combat hybrid warfare?
Because our training helps to increase the fighting capacity of the Peshmerga, we are strengthening the Peshmerga to fight against the IS. The former are defending their homeland, their families, their villages, and towns against a remorseless and brutal enemy. Nobody could have a greater motivation to fight. And this is how the Peshmerga fighters approach their training.
What feedback are you currently receiving from the Peshmerga fighters and from German soldiers about the actual success of the fight against the IS?
They are telling us how important our contribution is. For example, the many MILAN antitank guided missiles that Germany has supplied to the Peshmerga are a crucial asset on the battlefield. Without them, there was no way to stop IS vehicles packed full of explosives. Whole trucks full of explosives, armored with steel plate, and a suicide bomber at the wheel, would break through Kurdish positions and set off the deadly charge; for a long time the Kurds were defenseless against this kind of attack – until they got the MILANs and were able to destroy the vehicles at a great distance.
Is there even any effective way to fight the Islamic State’s megalomania? To what extent? And why?
I can only say that the Kurds here in the north are full of courage and highly committed to defending their homeland. You can tell from the daily news reports that this battle is not easy. But just because something isn’t easy, does that mean you shouldn’t even start, or continue with full force?
German assistance entails the provision of equipment and training by supplying armaments and support – does this “assistance” prolong the war against the IS?
Personally, I firmly believe that we must continue to help the local people defend themselves against a deadly threat. The faster and more effectively this danger is fought, the better.
Training is scheduled to continue until the end of January. Will the mission be extended? And if so, why?
I cannot and do not wish to anticipate the political decision-makers. I only know that we are needed. We see that every day from people’s reactions here.
This interview was answered by e-mail on October 7, 2015.
The German Federal Ministry of Defence announced it will send a further 50 troops to the Kurdistan Region. A total of 150 German soldiers will then train the Peshmerga. Further Germany signaled it would send up to 650 soldiers to Mali. Germany also plans to join the military campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria by deploying Tornado reconnaissance jets, refuelling aircraft and a frigate to the region, after a direct appeal from close partner France. With an expected 1200 soldiers the planned involvement would be Germany’s largest current overseas deployment. All three planned deployments must still be approved by parliament.
(November 30, 2015)
Lieutenant Colonel Jan Heymann is currently commanding about 104 German soldiers in northern Iraq, in the metropolis Erbil where the German armed forces (Bundeswehr) are presently training Kurdish fighters. Heymann is the successor to Colonel Stephan Spöttel who commanded the mission until the end of September 2015. Spöttel was found dead in his hotel room in Erbil. Heymann holds the Silver Cross of Honor (Ehrenkreuz der Bundeswehr in Silber) and is currently on his third overseas deployment. He has held various positions in the Bundeswehr, and is now serving in the 37th Mechanized Infantry Brigade (Panzergrenadierbrigade 37) at Frankenberg in Saxony. He was born in 1974, joined the German armed forces in 1995 and lives in Saxony.