Why Did The Kurds Retreat?

David Stout scrutinizes the retreat of the peshmerga from their positions near Sinjar and the Mosul Dam, which led to the ISIS gains that tipped the scales in favor of US intervention:

Analysts say the retreat of Peshmerga troops in the face of the ISIS onslaught reveals more about the political failings of the Kurdish leadership than it does about the capabilities of what had long been considered one of the most formidable fighting forces in the region. “This advance in Sinjar and in other areas has shown the structural weakness of the KRG, the Kurdistan Regional Government,” Kawa Hassan, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Middle East Center, told TIME.

A report presented by the parliamentary commission on the Peshmerga last week explicitly stated that, while Kurdish forces had high morale, they were still under-equipped and not being paid in a timely fashion, Hassan said. The rout of Kurdish fighters in Sinjar is also particular damming for the administration of the Kurdish Regional Government’s President Masoud Barzan. Sinjar is considered a stronghold of the president’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, and his inability to protect the region will not likely fade from memory soon.

Michael Goldfarb relays a theory that the Kurds withdrew in order to precipitate a crisis and force Obama’s hand:

The idea is to create images in the west of a desperate population and an outgunned and outmanned force in need of American military aid. Indeed, news reports from the region in the last 24 hours have had pictures of Kurdish men volunteering to join existing Peshmerga forces and being handed dilapidated Kalashnikovs. That theory/rumour is as good as any.

It is hard to understand why this is happening now. IS didn’t seem to have the manpower or the inclination to push eastwards toward Erbil when it made its first breathtaking sweep into Iraq.  There was no strategic reason to do so.

Frankly, the Peshmerga are too strong and numerous a force particularly the closer any invading group gets to Erbil. The IS “army” is still reported to have not more than 15,000 men. And even with all manner of looted Syrian and Iraqi army equipment it couldn’t possibly take a city like Erbil, population 1.5m, whose people wanted to stand and fight.

But as Brett Logiurato and Michael Kelley point out, ISIS is now much better armed than the peshmerga:

ISIS is using modern U.S. weapons its fighters have seized from Iraqi forces, while the Kurds fight with Soviet arms. “They are literally outgunned by an ISIS that is fighting with hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. military equipment seized from the Iraqi Army who abandoned it,” Ali Khedery, a former American official who has served as an adviser to five U.S. ambassadors and several American generals in Iraq, told The New York Times.

McClatchy reports that the Kurdish peshmerga, meanwhile, possess “a handful of 12.7mm Soviet-era heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades,” along with a few Soviet-era T-55 tanks, to take on battle-hardened militants riding in U.S. Humvees.