WASHINGTON — The Obama administration and U.S. allies are preparing to rush antitank weapons and other arms to Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq who are battling Islamic militants near Irbil, officials said.
The CIA had already rushed small shipments of arms to the Kurds in recent days as U.S. airstrikes targeted the militants’ convoys and mortars.
The Pentagon now is preparing to take over and ratchet up the resupply effort. A Pentagon official said the U.S. would provide weapons that can destroy armored U.S.-made Humvees, armored personnel carriers and other heavy equipment the militants captured from fleeing Iraqi security forces.
The decision to arm the Kurds represents an about-face for the United States, which has long had a policy of funneling military aid only to Kurdish troops, known as peshmerga, through Iraq’s central government in Baghdad.
The White House decided to switch course after Kurdish troops last week abandoned positions outside Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital, in the face of a militant offensive because they ran out of ammunition, and resupply efforts from Iraqi and Kurdish stockpiles faltered, officials said.
U.S. officials emphasized the decision to arm the Kurds and to send ammunition was done with the approval of Iraqi officials in Baghdad.
A Kurdish leader confirmed that regional forces had begun receiving heavier weapons from U.S. stockpiles to help repel militants pushing into Kurdish towns.
The Kurdish forces need anti-armor and antitank weapons, he said, speaking anonymously in discussing sensitive negotiations with the Obama administration.
“This war against ISIS is a war of firepower,” the Kurdish leader said in a phone interview from Irbil, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “Really there is no match between the weapons they have acquired and our weapons.”
He said the Kurdish forces have requested long-range range anti-armor mortar rounds, shoulder-fired rockets and heavy machine guns.