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Pentagon to send more weapons to Kurds fighting Islamic State

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, second from right, is welcomed by Karim Sinjari, interior minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, after arriving in Irbil, Iraq.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, second from right, is welcomed by Karim Sinjari, interior minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, after arriving in Irbil, Iraq.

(Seivan M. Salim / Associated Press)

The Pentagon will send more weapons, armored Humvees and other military equipment to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq in coming weeks to help them battle Islamic State, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said here Thursday.

Backed by U.S. airstrikes, the Kurdish guerrillas have dislodged the Sunni militants from key towns and road junctions in recent months, and Carter praised their combat skills.

“The Kurdish peshmerga have been exactly what we’ve been looking for in this whole fight in Iraq and Syria, namely a capable and motivated force that we can enable,” Carter said after meeting with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani.

Two Kurdish brigades will play a role when the Iraqi army tries to recapture Mosul, the militants’ self-declared capital in Iraq. The long-delayed offensive also will involve Sunni tribesmen and local militias.

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Mosul lies outside Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, where the guerrillas are strongest.

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The U.S. will deliver body armor, helmets, machine guns, armored Humvees, sniper rifles and equipment to locate or disable home-made bombs, U.S. officials said. The gear will be enough for about 2,200 fighters, they said.

“We have been arming the peshmerga from the very early days,” Carter said. “It’s important to take Mosul. That’s an important objective and our equipment is going to make that possible.”

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The Kurds managed to repulse a sizable Islamic State attack Wednesday night. Officials said several hundred militants targeted three Kurdish bases northeast of Mosul in a coordinated assault that lasted all night.

Brig. Gen. Mark Odom, a U.S. commander in Irbil, said the militants used car bombs, rockets and mortars against Kurdish defenses. The attackers were pushed back with heavy casualties Thursday morning after a bombardment by coalition warplanes and a counter-assault by the guerrillas.

Carter said he spoke with U.S. special operations forces, now at Irbil, who recently went into northern Syria to coordinate with local Kurds and other forces battling Islamic State there.

“This was a mission to explore that possibility and get to know these people,” he said. “They were what they were said to be, and that’s very heartening.”

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Carter did not say what the next step would be.

Follow @wjhenn for military and defense info.

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