TUZHURMATU, Iraq – Thousands of inexperienced Kurdish troops are being taught basic military skills while already serving on the front lines, Peshmerga officers have told FoxNews.com.
Night and day, a handful of experienced fighters move up and down the front - just 1,500 yards from Islamic State forces - teaching new volunteers basic weapons, movement and artillery skills. The green recruits know they have to learn fast, as a clash with the murderous jihadi army could come without warning.
“There are so many problems with our unity and our training, and this is affecting our army," said veteran Peshmerga officer Sherdyl Rwandzi. "Soldiers come to us knowing very little, and we must teach them everything here [on the front lines].”
The Peshmerga are within view of the Islamic State-held town of Jalawla, where the black flags of IS flutter proudly on rooftops. But unlike this latest generation of the proud Peshmerga - which means "those who face death" - the Islamic State fighters are organized, well-armed and have a clear command control.
In the last decade, Kurdish troops have had to go through a huge transition, from acting as a defensive insurgency, trained at repelling would-be attackers high in the mountains, to a full-fledged national army, supposedly unified. But the change has been slow, and the reconciliation following the 1990s civil war between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Sulaymaniyah and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in Erbil is still ongoing. They now find themselves thrown together to face a common enemy, yet unable to trust each other and bickering over supplies. Their forces number 150,000, but the tally includes too many untrained greenhorns and too few seasoned veterans.
Asked if any new recruits had failed training, one told FoxNews.com, “Of course not. We run and we jump and we learn to fire a gun. Then we come here.”
In the last week, along the front lines near the midwestern Iraqi town of Tuzhurmatu, there had been three heavy attacks. The newest members of the Peshmerga performed well,
"It was the best training for them,” one officer told FoxNews.com. "They had never experienced battle before, but now some are singing in their work, and getting better.”
In addition to learning to use weapons, the raw recruits are expected to buy their own. Gun markets are popping up in every village, as young soldiers arrive to buy, sell and trade every kind of weapon imaginable.
“We need the U.S. for everything,” a member of the Kurdish special forces said. “We must be taught how to establish units, how to get a better chain of command, and how to be unified.”
For 60 years, the Peshmerga were renowned for their fighting spirit and ability to confound enemies. Saddam Hussein failed to defeat the Kurds despite mass executions and use of chemical weapons. Iran, Syria and Turkey have all tried and failed to shake them from their mountains hideouts, but the vicious civil war demonstrated that the only force that could defeat the Kurds came from within.
For now, the heaviest lifting on the front line is being done by a small batch of special forces and U.S.-trained counter terrorism groups. The veterans warned an embedded FoxNews.com reporter to stay away from the regular soldiers.
"They don’t know what they’re doing,” one officer said. “They’re likely to get you killed.”
Follow Benjamin Hall on Twitter @BorderlineN or visit www.hallbenjamin.com