The top commander of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has lauded the Iran-allied Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a predominantly Shiite militia umbrella group that also includes individuals who have been deemed terrorists by the United States, for their contribution to the ongoing offensive to retake Sunni majority Mosul.
“Before I got here, I read all kinds of things about the PMF, and I got here and I haven’t observed that behavior,” American Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander, told the Daily Beast on Christmas Day. “We’re not having allegations of bad behavior or misconduct,” he noted, asserting that the PMF have not endangered U.S. troops yet.
“Their internal and external comms are to keep disciplined and follow the orders of the government,” he said. “They’re saying that and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Townsend suggested the PMF, which includes members who have recently threatened U.S. service members, are no longer a risk to his fellow service members.
According to the Daily Beast:
The U.S. has ordinarily eyed these [Iran-backed Shiite] units warily. But Townsend, in an unusual statement for an American commander, said these militias been been “remarkably disciplined” allies since he arrived. That assessment marks a stark contrast with his previous tours, when deadly Iranian-manufactured bombs almost hit his vehicle, and took the lives of many of his troops.
Shortly before the Daily Beast report, the Los Angeles Times has recently learned that, marking a “significant break” in U.S. policy, the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq have provided hundreds of weapons and training to hundreds of Shiite militias known for being affiliated with Iran, including some the U.S. has designated terrorists and may have American blood on their hands.
Despite the repeated denials from the Pentagon, Reuters has confirmed that Shiite militias closely aligned with the Iranian government and the terror group Hezbollah are actively participating in the liberation of Mosul from ISIS.
The U.S. military claims it only trains and assists Shiite militiamen it has vetted for links to Iran and terrorist groups, as mandated by law, conceding that certain fighters who fail the vetting process are still allowed to participate in the offensive.
Townsend confirmed that the U.S. is indeed collaborating with the Iran-allied PMF in fighting for Mosul. The Pentagon has previously denied on multiple occasions that the PMF includes members of the terrorist group Hezbollah, which has collaborated with other Shiite groups on the ground in Iraq.
“The PMF did advance more rapidly than we expected and they’ve done a good job,” he told the Daily Beast.
PMF fighters have been accused of atrocities against Sunnis but deny the allegations.
Asked whether the United States had been “allowing” Shiite militias with bloody histories of murdering U.S. troops to participate in the Mosul operation, a defense official told Breitbart News on condition of anonymity soon after the offensive began, “We are confident in our force protection measures.”
Initially, the U.S. military claimed that it had only been backing the Sunni component of the predominant Shiite PMF, suggesting that the Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister did not control the Shiite component.
Iraq’s Parliament has since enacted a law making Shiite militias legal and placing them under the umbrella of the Iraqi armed forces, though answering directly to Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.
It appears the new law will allow the Iraqi PM to break his pledge that only regular members of the Iraqi forces would enter Sunni-dominated Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq and ISIS’s last remaining stronghold in the country.
In addition to Shiite Muslims, some PMF members are also Sunni tribesman and Christians, but the large majority are Shiites, reports the Daily Beast.