Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has taken a trip to see a Bundeswehr operation not currently halted by technical problems; Kurdish peshmerga fighters are being trained to use German anti-tank weapons in Hammelburg.
The German defense minister observed training exercises in Bavaria on Thursday where Kurdish forces are learning to operate the "Milan" anti-tank guided missile system. The Franco-German weapon was one of the products provided by Germany to help Iraqi Kurds battle the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS) in northern Iraq.
"My compliments, this is impressive," von der Leyen told a training officer at the Hammelburg base, as Kurdish officers were taught to assemble and prepare the weapon to fire. Training officer Gert-Johannes Hagemann said that the drills were designed to ensure that soldiers could "accurately deploy" the Milan weaponry "by day or night." The antitank weapon, the most complex of those offered to the peshmerga by Berlin, has an effective range of up to 2,000 meters (more than a mile) against armored vehicles.
A total of 32 peshmerga fighters are currently stationed in Bavaria.
The visiting Christian Democrat defense minister also praised the security forces for Iraqi Kurdistan, saying that they had "deputized for many others in northern Iraq" by taking the fight to "IS." Iraq's military offered rather less resistance to the advancing Sunni terrorist militia than the Kurdish forces.
The Kurdish major leading the peshmerga group issued his thanks to the German Bundeswehr military for providing the weapons, ammunition and training. He said that Germany was "the first country to train us peshmerga for the fight against the IS militia." The German government has provided humanitarian and military equipment for the fight against IS, but has ruled out participation in airstrikes over Iraq or Syria.
Bundeswehr shortfalls in focus
Von der Leyen also addressed the Bundeswehr's equipment problems during her trip, following days of sharp focus on the German military's various technical problems. The defense minister said a fresh discussion on bolstering Bundeswehr supplies would be necessary, before cautioning that such a move would cost money.
Germany spent 1.4 percent of its economic output on defense last year; NATO would like its members to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on their militaries.
A large portion of the Bundeswehr's aerial units are currently grounded, with problems affecting weapons deliveries to Iraq, the return of German soldiers from Afghanistan, and participation in the EU's anti-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa.
Von der Leyen was personally embarrassed by the delayed arrival of the first consignment of German weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan last week - she arrived in the region on schedule to meet local officials, but the German munitions were stuck in transit.
Von der Leyen on Thursday said that the problems stemmed from the Bundeswehr currently having to rely on old equipment because of delays producing new machinery. However, replacement parts for these older units were becoming scarce.
The defense minister said it had become clear "that stockpiling, but also production of replacement parts had been mistakenly wound down in the past years," pledging to "get them started again."
msh/glb (AFP, epd, dpa)