For the last four weeks, around 50 soldiers from Telemark Battalion and the Norwegian Army's Quick Reaction Force have trained personnel from Iraqi security forces. The training has taken place in a training camp outside Erbil, the capital in the Kurdish province in Northern Iraq. The Norwegian instructors have taught their Kurdish colleagues basic soldier skills like shooting training, medical services and detection of mines and explosives.
The camp is located close to the front where Kurdish troops are fighting the Jihadist militant group ISIL, and after four weeks of training, the first battalion graduated Wednesday 17 June. The aim is to make Kurdish soldiers more effective in combating ISIL, and to limit the loss of personnel.
Present during the graduation ceremony was Lieutenant General Morten Haga Lunde, Commander of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters.
"This is a special day. This is a new type of mission, and it is special being just 20-30 kilometres away from the front. It is important that we succeed in building expertise and knowledge to those soldiers going to the front," says Lunde.
During the graduation, the 500 Iraqi soldiers got their diplomas. In about a week, they will return to the front and continue the battle against ISIL. Next week the Norwegian instructors will start training a new battalion of Kurdish soldiers.
"The Norwegian personnel have done a fantastic job and prepared very well. What we have done the last four weeks is above what we are supposed to and able to deliver."
Wide time frame
The Norwegian soldiers in Northern Iraq are not taking part in battle. It is not decided for how long Norway will train the Kurdish forces.
"It is difficult to say anything about the time frame here. The Kurdish forces are probably around 150,000 to 170,000, so there are many soldiers who need training. Because of this, we must see the long perspectives in what we do," says Lunde.
a Global Threat
The Norwegian contribution is part of an international coalition in the fight against ISIL, or DAESH as the group is called in Arabic. Lunde points out that ISIL not only is a threat against Iraq and Syria, but also becoming a global threat.
"With its violent ideology arising from sectarian violence in Iraq, DAESH is incredibly dangerous and must be stopped. Iraq, the Kurds or other locals can't stop them alone, so it is important that we stand shoulder to shoulder in a broad coalition," says the Lieutenant General.
Inspector General of the Norwegian Army, Major General Rune Jakobsen, also took part in the graduation in Iraq. To him it was very special to meet "his" own people at work in Northern Iraq.
"I have noticed that we get recognition, and that our soldiers find this mission meaningful. It is important that many of our personnel have extensive experience from previous operations, so that we can share the experience," he said.