WASHINGTON, D.C. – During today’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing entitled, “Testimony on United States Middle East Policy”, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) questioned General David H. Petraeus, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and former Commander of the International Security Assistance Force, U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Central Command, and Multi-National Forces in Iraq on his opinion of current strategy in the Middle East. 

The Iowa Senator asked General Petraeus about strengthening the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, while noting that she would like to see more assistance going to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in consultation with the Iraqi government.  Senator Ernst also voiced concerns over Turkey’s recent mobilization, requesting General Petraeus’ opinion of its impact on anti-ISIS coalition forces. 

Earlier this year, Senator Ernst introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to grant temporary, emergency authority for the President to provide weapons and training directly to Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces in consultation with the Iraqi government.

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SEN. ERNST: Thank you Admiral McCain. General Petraeus, thank you for appearing in front of the committee today and I think you can see from the attendance at this committee today, that your opinions and your thoughts are very highly valued. So, thank you for sharing with us today, your thoughts. I would like to go back to the Kurds a little bit, I think we’ve talked a lot about it and everybody has asked questions, but maybe not in all manners. So, the Kurds have been a great ally to us and I’ve heard that from many of the men and women that have served in that region. They have been a great partner for 25 years or so, and they have a healthy respect for the rule of law. They have been very helpful with a number of minorities, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, and what can we do to better provide support for the Kurdish Regional Government, the Kurdish Peshmerga, I believe we need to double down on this effort. Regardless of whether they may push beyond their regional boundaries, but they do provide an area, whether we can engage them in shaping operations, whether it is to provide an area for us to base. Can you give us some thoughts, and the advantages of this? 

GENERAL PETRAEUS: I can. The fact is, as you know we have headquarters, we have operational headquarters, we have very close relationships, in both my military and Intel lives, we are very, very closely linked. I think the single biggest issues are the provision of weapons and other supplies, to streamline that. You know, I’ve said we have to support Prime Minister Abadi, we need to strengthen him that means we can’t bypass him on these issues, but we need to figure out how to get this so that, ideally, it doesn’t have to touch down in Baghdad, it can go directly to them. Some coalition members are doing that, I think actually with our tacit approval, if not applause. I think that’s the single biggest step we could take, and to look very careful at what it is were providing them, here is some additional items again, I happened to be there for a conference in Sulaymaniyah in the earlier part of this year and I had a lot of people come and plead that particular case. The other is to determine, you know, the KRG, the Kurdish Regional Government, is in very, very difficult financial times right now because of the price of oil going down by 55%, it’s not only reduced what they get, but its reduced the amount for which the 17% that they get from the central government is. So, they’re having a very difficult time, they’re supporting hundreds of thousands of refugees on their soil, anybody who goes up there and flies over this will see a camp every few kilometers, and, indeed, they’re fighting a war. Again, if we could provide additional assistance to them that would be of support, I think that would be very valuable also. We have very much enabled them. We help them hold off, had it not been for decisive action actually at a critical moment last year, it’s very possible that the Islamic State might have gotten closer to the capital of Irbil, that held that of, and I think really retaken most of the area around the Kurdish Regional Government. Candidly, there are no more disputed internal boundary areas in Iraq. They are generally controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government, as a result of operations that have taken place with our support. 

SEN. ERNST: Very good, and I appreciate those thoughts very much. I would tend to agree, I would love to see more assistance going to the KRG. Of course, in consultation with the Iraqi government, I applaud you on that as well. If we could turn to Turkey, just very briefly. We’ve talked a little bit about the fact that they have mobilized and unfortunately, what we have seen is that through their mobilization of resources, whether it’s political, military, instead of really pushing back against ISIS, we see there’s been a turn to mobilize against PKK, and what do you see the impact is to those coalition forces, the anti-ISIS coalition forces, and what are the greater implications of that and thoughts maybe from some of those coalition members? 

GENERAL PETRAEUS: I don’t know that this has a huge effect on U.S. or coalition forces, they’re not being diverted to assist. There’s a certain slight degree of support that we provided in the past in the intelligence realm that I don’t imagine has changed a great deal. What I think is very significant is what is happening within Turkey as a result of this, the sheer escalation of the violence, a situation that was relatively calm seemed to be heading toward one in which there was greater reconciliation between in the government in Ankara and the sizable part of their population in Turkey that is Kurdish with the allowance of meeting certain desires of that Kurdish population and all of a sudden the wheels have come off the bus and whether this is connected with the future election in Turkey or something else, it is very distressing to see because again the violence on both sides now has escalated very, very rapidly and quite considerably. 

SEN. ERNST: Great, thank you, my time has expired. Thank you General, thank you Admiral. 

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