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News 27 Aug 14

Albania Starts Shifting Weapons to Iraqi Kurds

Tirana has started transfering large caches of weapons and ammunition to Iraqi Kurds, to help them stem the advance of Islamic State Sunni militants.

Besar Likmeta BIRN Tirana
C-17 US Air Force transport plane | Photo by : US Air Force/ Flickr

A source in Albania's Ministry of Defence, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told BIRN that weapons transfer had begun following a government decision earlier this month.

At least one C-17 US Air Force transport plane, commonly used for the transfer of weapons and ammunition, was seen leaving Tirana’s Mother Teresa Airport on Sunday.

Under a decision taken on August 15 and published in the official gazette on Tuesday, Albania intends to transfer 22 million rounds of AK-47 7.62 millimeter bullets, 15,000 hand grenades and 32,000 artillery shells of different calibers to Kurdish forces in Iraq.

Tirana also announced that it is donating 10,000 model-56 Kalashnikov automatic rifles to Afghanistan.

The donations are part of an international drive to help the embattled Iraqi Kurds curb the Sunni militants of Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL, who have seized large parts of Iraq and Syria and committed numerous atrocities - the latest being the beheading of a captured US journalist, James Foley.

In a statement on Tuesday, US Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, said that seven Western governments in addition to the United States have pledged to provide weapons and ammunition to Kurdish forces.

"In addition to support from the US, and the central government of Iraq in Baghdad, seven additional nations - Albania, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom - have committed to helping provide Kurdish forces urgently needed arms and equipment," Hagel said.

"Operations have already begun and will accelerate in the coming days with more nations also expected to contribute," he added.

The Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL, was founded in the early years of the Iraq war, becoming known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The militant Islamist organisation is fighting to establish a Sunni Caliphate in the Middle East. The US recently launched air strikes to halt its advance into the Kurdish region, which has taken in hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christian and Yazidi refugees.

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