In a visit to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq on Sunday, the United Kingdom’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, reiterated his support for the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
During his trip Fallon met with the KRG’s out-of-term President Masoud Barzani and the autonomous region’s Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani to discuss the the ongoing Mosul offensive, post IS governance and the military cooperation between the two sides.
Fallon also paid tribute to Kurdish forces who had died in the fight against the jihadist group saying, “I remember just a few years ago when only the Peshmerga stood between Daesh [IS] domination and freedom. It was your heroism that helped inspire the fight back.”
The Defence Secretary said his country was supporting the Peshmerga indirectly through the Baghdad government and that they had trained 7,000 Peshmerga elements.
Commenting on operations in Iraq, Fallon said 25,000 militants had been killed by the international anti-IS coalition and that 2 million civilians could now return to their homes following operations.
The operation to liberate Mosul from the IS group is ongoing in the west of the city after Iraqi, Kurdish and several other forces pushed out jihadist militants from the east on 24 January.
Commenting on the Mosul operation, Fallon said he couldn’t give a specific timeline for complete liberation. However the defence secretary was more specific about the Kurdish-Arab-led operation to liberate Raqqa, the IS stronghold in Syria, and said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would complete the isolation stage “by the end of Spring.”
The UK is part of the international anti-IS coalition but has kept a relatively back-seat as it deals with internal issues and the upcoming exit out of the European Union. However commentators say the British government holds important sway over the region and expertise due to the leading role it has played in the Middle East in the past 150 years.
The UK’s Chief of General Staff visited Turkey on 10 February to discuss developments in the region with his Turkish counterpart.