ISIS fight: Turkey helping anti-ISIS Kurds defend Kobani on Syria border
'We are fully co-operating with the coalition with respect to Kobani,' Turkish foreign minister says
Turkey said it was helping Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross into Syria to support their brethren fighting ISIS militants in a key border town, although activists inside embattled Kobani said no forces had arrived by Monday evening, raising questions about whether the mission was really underway.
The statement by Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu came hours after the U.S. airdropped weapons and ammunition to resupply Kurdish fighters for the first time. Those airdrops Sunday followed weeks of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition in and near Kobani.
After a relative calm, heavy fighting erupted in the town as dusk fell, with the clatter of small arms and tracer fire, as well as the thud of mortar rounds and big explosions of two airstrikes that resounded across the frontier.
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"We are helping peshmerga forces to enter into Kobani to give support," Cavusoglu said at a news conference, referring to the security forces of the largely autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The Kurdish government there is known to be friendly to the Turkish government.
A peshmerga spokesman said he had not been ordered to move units to Syria.
"They have not given us any orders to move our units," said the spokesman, Halgurd Hekmat. "But we are waiting, and we are ready."
The Kurdish activists in Kobani said there was no sign of any peshmerga forces.
It also underscored the size of the challenge in battling militants who have been trying to seize Kobani since last month to spread their rule along the mountainous spine of the Syria-Turkey border, an area dominated by ethnic Kurds.
Ankara views Kurdish fighters in Syria as loyal to what Turkish officials regard as an extension of the group known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. That group has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO.
The government is under pressure to take greater action against the ISIS militants — not only from the West but also from Kurds in Syria and inside Turkey who accuse Ankara of standing by while their people are slaughtered. Earlier this month across Turkey, there were widespread protests that threatened to derail promising talks to end the PKK insurgency.
Not complete reversal
Although a significant departure from previous positions, Turkey's announcement to allow fighters to cross its territory is not a complete policy reversal, since it involves peshmerga fighters from Iraq and not those from the PKK.
It remains uncertain whether Ankara would allow heavily armed Iraqi Kurdish fighters to make the journey in large numbers. It is also unclear if many of those peshmerga troops would even do so, given that the ISIS militants still threaten their areas in Iraq.
Cavusoglu did not give details of where and how Turkey would allow the Kurdish fighters to cross into Syria.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it would be "irresponsible" and "morally very difficult" not to support the Kurds in their fight against ISIS.
"But we have undertaken a coalition effort to degrade and destroy ISIL, and ISIL is presenting itself in major numbers in this place called Kobani," he told reporters in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, using another acronym for ISIS.
The weapons and military aid were flown by U.S. cargo jets from northern Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish regions.
Barzan Iso, a journalist based in Kobani, said he saw the airdrop, which included anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles, large amounts of artillery shells and medicine.
The Americans dropped the bundles amid heavy wind, he said. Two bundles landed in ISIS-held areas, and Kurdish fighters were able to retrieve one, while the other was blown up by the U.S. from the air, Isso said.
The U.S. Central Command said the coalition conducted six airstrikes near Kobani in the past 24 hours, targeting ISIS fighting and mortar positions and a vehicle. It confirmed that one airstrike targeted a stray resupply bundle. U.S. cargo planes also dropped arms and supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq, the Central Command said.