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German soldiers begin training Kurds

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German soldiers begin training Kurds
A German soldier demonstrates a G3 rifle to watching media. Photo: DPA
16:51 CEST+02:00
On a dusty firing range outside the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Irbil, peshmerga fighter Ardalan Aziz Hamad hefts his new German-made assault rifle and is clearly impressed.

"This is a good rifle," Hamad says, under the watchful eye of instructors from the German army (Bundeswehr). "Its weight is good; it's not too heavy."

Hamad and 19 others are the first to be trained to handle new weapons provided by Berlin for the fightback against jihadists from the Islamic State (Isis) group, who have overrun much of northern Iraq.

Germany announced at the end of August that it was going to give new weapons to the Kurdish peshmerga, the militia that is a key force against Isis fighters in Iraq.

The offer of military aid was substantial - 16,000 HK G3 and HK G36 assault rifles, 8,000 pistols and portable anti-tank rocket launchers, as well as tents, helmets and radio equipment.

Now the weapons - worth an estimated €70 million - have arrived and with them German trainers who are drilling the peshmerga in their use.

Among them is Major Florian R. He and his team of six other trainers have asked not to be fully identified.

"The peshmerga who are here are experienced soldiers," he says, "and our job is simply to introduce them to handling the new rifle."

"They are used to fighting with [Russian-designed] Kalashnikovs, so it's important for there to be training in handling the German ones," says Major Florian, a 40-something Berliner.

The G3 is not unlike the Kalashnikov. Both are full-length rifles, weigh about the same, have pistol grips and fire 7.62 calibre ammunition. The Kalashnikov is easily recognized by its distinctive curved magazine.

The G36 is a lighter, shorter weapon which fires a smaller, 5.56 calibre round, and has replaced the G3 in the Bundeswehr.

Major Florian and his team are dressed in camouflage fatigues and body armour and for security reasons the regulation patches with their names and ranks are absent from the velcro strip above their breast pockets.

They do not want to be easily identifiable and become targets for an Isis hit, the major explains.

Modern weapons to fight Isis

The peshmerga fighters say they are grateful for the weapons and the training, which will be crucial in their battle against the well-armed militants of Isis.

"Without modern weapons, we can't fight Isis," says one of the fighters working with the G3s.

Peshmerga Colonel Karwan Baban says the training will proceed at a regular pace, with groups of 20 fighters each training for 10 days.

"Then there will be another group of 20, and on it goes," he says.

At Benislawa, the training is in light arms only, the colonel says. The men will then head to another camp, some 70 kilometres (40 miles) north for training in the heavier weapons.

Thirty-two fighters have also gone to the southern German state of Bavaria for training in handling the Milan anti-tank missile.

'Even one bullet helps'

Another peshmerga colonel, Dler Aptar, thanks Germany for its "rapid assistance", saying: "Even one bullet helps in the fight against Isis."

While Britain, Canada and France have also provided arms to the Kurds, Germany is the only country to publicly acknowledge sending military instructors.

But some of the militiamen say they had seen other trainers from France, Canada and Turkey.

 "Yesterday there were some soldiers who spoke French; they said 'Bonjour',"says one Kurdish fighter, declining to give his name.

Sporting a pin with the German and Kurdish flags on his tunic, Major Florian says the German instructors are in no rush to leave.

"We'll stay here to train the peshmerga for as long as it takes," he says.

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