Working with US Forces to bolster security in one of Iraq’s most vulnerable cities
Since ISIS captured Mosul in the summer of 2014, Kirkuk, because of its multiethnic composition, abundance of oil wealth, and proximity to the frontlines, has been a consistent target for the terrorist organization. The most recent incident took place in October 2016, when dozens of ISIS fighters assaulted the city and killed more than 40 people.
Over the last year, US advisory teams have been mentoring security forces in Kirkuk to bolster their capacity and further professionalize their ranks. The teams have focused their energy on Kurdish security forces, including bomb disposal teams that compose the city’s first line of defense against terrorist plots. Even as ISIS is pushed back, Kirkuk’s fragile demographic fault lines will continue being exploited by terrorist groups seeking to destabilize the region on behalf of their narrow political objectives. These local security units are responsible for thwarting such developments.
Earlier this year, the US teams identified the need for supplies to improve the performance, morale and reputation of their Iraqi partners. These gaps included metal detectors, flashlights and headlamps, ropes and multi-tools to help dismantle buried explosive devices, and more. Leveraging our network of local vendors and working closely with our US military partners, SoA was able to quickly fill these critical gaps.
Recently, I traveled to Kirkuk to assist with the distribution of gear provided by SoA. The soldiers were formed in orderly columns in a gravel parking lot, eager yet seemingly unsure of what was about to happen next. Fifteen minutes passed as the American Sergeants and their local counterparts choreographed the distribution. Afterward, the Kurdish commander, an engineer by trade who now holds the rank of Major, explained to his troops what they were about to receive before these broad-shouldered soldiers filed by their leaders, each one collecting the SoA-provided gear.
Later, I caught up with Major, who a few days earlier had hosted me for tea at his downtown headquarters. He took the opportunity to thank me and Spirit of America as well as his US partners who connected us to him. I told him that I was merely doing my job, which I take great pride in. I added that I, like many Americans, appreciate the sacrifices of his soldiers, which not only make his home country safer, but mine as well.
Sometime after the distribution, I received a message from Major Karzan: “Hey brother, please send my appreciation to your organization for generous support of our soldiers here in Kirkuk and other places in Kurdistan. We are thankful for our American friends in this fight against terrorism.”
Project Manager – Middle East