Senator Joni Ernst speaking on the Senate floor.

Senator Joni Ernst speaking on the Senate floor.

Republican Senator Joni Ernst this afternoon joined with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California to argue for direct U.S. military aid to the Kurds in northern Iraq as they fight Islamic militants.

“The Kurds currently are providing refuge to over 1.6 million refugees from Iraq and Syria. Many of them are ethnic and religious minorities, such as Christians. The Peshmerga have shown the ability to be effective on the battlefield against ISIS,” Ernst said.

Boxer then added: “This is a very modest amendment that just puts us in line with our colleagues the United Kingdom, Germany, Turkey, Canada, France, Australia and others who already are directly arming the Kurds.”

The amendment Ernst and Boxer put forward got 54 “yes” votes in the U.S. senate this afternoon, but needed 60 to pass. It would have given the president temporary authority to provide weapons and training directly to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq. Ernst said too often the Kurds have to wait for delivery of military equipment from the Iraqi central government.

“Defeating ISIS is critical to maintaining an inclusive and unified Iraq and the Iraqi Kurds are the key to that goal,” Ernst said.

In a speech on the senate floor yesterday, Ernst said there are “far too few positive” developments in Iraq these days.

“But when there are some, it’s often the Kurds who are often making that progress,” Ernst said. “ISIS is deadly and determined and Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces, our critical partner in the fight against ISIS, need US weapons as quickly as possible. We simply cannot afford future delays at this critical moment in the battle.”

Yesterday, a coalition of Kurds and Arab rebels reportedly stormed into a key town in Syria, near the border with Turkey, and seized back most of it from Islamic State fighters. Senators who spoke against the idea of directly giving U.S. military aid to the Kurds said it would undermine Iraq’s central government and “complicate” efforts to defeat the Islamic State militants.