Kurdish Fighters Storm Buildings, Train for Urban War
One step closer to combat
Originally published on May 18, 2015.
Peshmerga fighters of the 4th Battalion laid down covering fire as their comrades crossed a street in a half-built housing complex outside the city of Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional capital.
Smoke from fires lit by coalition instructors added to the reality of the drill — as did the fireworks simulating shooting.
Shouts of “bang!” mixed with vocal renditions of automatic fire echoed out of the houses. Then from a rooftop on the other side of the street, a fighter cried, “Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”
Both Peshmerga and their instructors giggled at the barnyard sound — it had been a long day of training and keeping a sense of humor was crucial.
This was all part of an urban warfare training course held by the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center. It was the last day of training for the Peshmerga’s 4th Battalion.
The Peshmerga are crack mountain fighters, but have less experience with urban warfare. The problem is that Islamic State — the Sunni extremist group which controls a huge chunk of Iraq and Syria — are expert urban guerrillas.
As a result, the Western coalition is helping the Kurdish 4th Battalion learn how to fight in cities. During this exercise, the Peshmerga began assaulting simulated enemy positions at eight o’clock in the morning.
Some of the battalion’s troops are training in the city of Dohuk. But for this exercise outside Erbil, Western coalition advisers tested the 1st and 2nd companies as well as the battalion’s staff officers.
Both companies had their orders. Clear two streets at the construction site, deal with any casualties, improvised explosive devices and enemy positions.
These enemies and IEDs were all simulations, of course.
One Kurdish fighter provided cover as members of his section crossed behind him. The coalition instructors stressed that no soldier should move without others’ providing covering fire.
Two Kurdish fighters from the Italian-trained 2nd Company sprinted to cover. The second fighter’s yellow armbands indicated his position as one of the battalion’s new medics.
This was the first time that the battalion had worked with its medical section.
Kurdish troops have suffered because they lack trained medics. On the front lines, the Peshmerga have often simply thrown wounded soldiers into trucks and driven them to the nearest hospitals.
The battalion’s 1st Company — under the eyes of its British and German Mobile Training Teams — led the assault. They advanced through the first several rows of houses, while a coalition officer checked that they didn’t miss any simulated IEDs planted inside.
Exercise commanders split the area into three parts. First Company took the closest section, and 2nd Company leapfrogged past. Both companies then secured the last part of the street before creating defensive positions against a possible enemy counter-attack.
First Platoon, under Cpt. Mohammed, advanced up the left side of the street. A squad sprinted across open ground to reach a building. Once inside, they spotted a potential “IED,” marked it and cleared the rest of the house.
One fighter triggered another simulated IED elsewhere in the building and became a casualty. A German coalition forces medic placed a card bearing a grisly picture of an open stomach wound around the fighter’s neck.
Mohammed moved up to supervise the withdrawal of the casualty and his forward squad from the building.
The evacuation was swift. The squad moved the injured Peshmerga to the rear of the company on a set of ladders used as a makeshift stretcher. Then the entire platoon moved to a safer location.
Despite missing the IED, the fighters weren’t discouraged. Their tactics improved, and they spotted clues to threats and avoided many other booby traps as they moved through the village.
But as they advanced, the unit’s command-and-control system slowed down, which meant the whole battalion lost momentum. Second Company — with its Italian training team — began to act frustrated as the troops waited to advance and take its section of the street.
Coalition trainers shouted at their pupils, urging them on to the objective. This was the first time these two companies and the battalion staff have worked together in this environment. Problems were inevitable.
During one attack on the last section of the village, the battalion staff officers decided to take part. Col. Hassan — the battalion deputy commander — ran between houses as he led the headquarters element in an attack.
A Peshmerga fighter of 1st Company, armed with a donated German G36 assault rifle, peeked around a corner toward houses being cleared by his comrades.
With the headquarters unit now taking part directly, the stalled Peshmerga recovered quickly and pushed forward.
They cleared their section of the street just before midday. As the 2nd Company advanced, Italian advisers jogged alongside as they passed through the area now held by 1st Company.
Battalion staff, including the deputy battalion commander, started to assault the last houses.
The 4th Battalion closed on its objective. The battalion pushed back its instructors — who played the part of enemy insurgents — who then withdrew from the edge of the housing complex.
The Peshmerga moved aggressively into the last few houses — all in various states of construction. Soldiers fortified the windows and streets, then provided cover for the final assault.
A member of 1st Platoon carried wood for boarding up one of the buildings. A British-trained Peshmerga platoon used bricks to create firing positions from windows.
The Peshmerga fortified another building with tarpaulin. The material covered the upstairs windows — while they made firing slits on the bottom floor with materials found on the construction site.
Construction workers watched from nearby apartment blocks as the Peshmerga created their makeshift forts.
A company commander leaped through a window during the final assault, adding more drama to an already tense day.
The Peshmerga of 4th Battalion pushed hard. The next day, they paraded for visiting dignitaries — closing the circle on the month-long training course.
At the parade, members of 1st Platoon stood together and celebrated. They also wore new uniforms — giving them a professional look.
In a few days, the battalion face coalition soldiers throwing firecrackers or inert packages simulating IEDs. They will be back at the front line facing Islamic State.