US air drops, moves by Turkey boost Kurd battle against ISIS in Kobane

Smoke and flames rise following an explosion in the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as seen from the southeastern Turkish village of Mursitpinar in the Sanliurfa province on Oct 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Smoke and flames rise following an explosion in the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as seen from the southeastern Turkish village of Mursitpinar in the Sanliurfa province on Oct 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

MURSITPINAR, Turkey (AFP/REUTERS) - Kurds battling militants for the Syrian border town of Kobane welcomed a first US airdrop of weapons on Monday as neighbouring Turkey said it will help Iraqi Kurds to support the fight.

Three C-130 cargo aircraft carried out what the US military called "multiple" successful drops of supplies, including small arms, provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq.

The supplies were "intended to enable continued resistance against ISIL's attempts to overtake Kobane," said US Central Command, using another acronym for ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). The US-led coalition has carried out more than 135 air strikes against ISIS targets around Kobane.

The main Syrian Kurdish fighting force in Kobane, the People's Protection Units (YPG), swiftly welcomed the airdrop.

"The military assistance dropped by American planes at dawn on Kobane was good and we thank America for this support," said spokesman Redur Xelil.

"It will have a positive impact on military operations against Daesh and we hope for more," he added, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Xelil declined to detail the weapons delivered but said there was "coordination" over the drop.

"Weapons have been sent according to their needs, and this is the first batch, and included heavy weapons," said Halgord Hekmat, spokesman for Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, without providing further details.

ISIS launched its Kobane offensive on September 16, swiftly pushing Kurds back to the town itself and sparking an exodus of 200,000 refugees into Turkey.

But the Kurds have kept up a dogged resistance on the streets of the town, of which they control around half.

Turkey said on Monday it would also allow also Iraqi Kurdish fighters to reinforce fellow Kurds in Kobane.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington had asked Ankara to help "get the peshmerga or other groups" into Kobane so that they could help defend the town on the Turkish frontier, adding that he hoped the Kurds would "take this fight on".

If the reinforcements come through, this may mark a turning point in the battle for Kobane, a town that has become a frontline of the battle to foil ISIS attempt to reshape the Middle East.

The Syrian Kurds have struggled for weeks against better armed ISIS fighters. U.S.-led air strikes have helped the Kurds avoid defeat, but they been unable to resupply fighters besieged on three sides by ISIS and blocked by Turkey from bringing fighters or weapons over the border.

Ankara views the Syrian Kurds with deep suspicion because of their ties to the PKK, a group that waged a decades-long militant campaign for Kurdish rights in Turkey and which Washington regards as a terrorist organisation.

Speaking in Indonesia, Kerry acknowledged Turkish concerns about support for the Kurds, and said the air-drop of supplies provided by the Kurdish authorities in Iraq did not amount to a change of U.S. policy.

He indicated that the battle against ISIS was an overriding consideration.

"We understand fully the fundamentals of (Ankara's) opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group, and particularly, obviously, the challenges they face with respect to the PKK," he told reporters.

But he added: "We cannot take our eye off the prize here. It would be irresponsible of us, as well as morally very difficult, to turn your back on a community fighting ISIL."

Iraqi Kurdish official Hemin Hawrami, writing on his Twitter feed, said 21 tonnes of weapons and ammunition supplied by the Iraqi Kurds had been dropped in the small hours of Monday.

Kerry said both he and President Barack Obama had spoken to Turkish authorities before the air-drops "to make it very, very clear this is not a shift of policy by the United States".

"It is a crisis moment, an emergency where we clearly do not want to see Kobane become a horrible example of the unwillingness of people to be able to help those who are fighting ISIL," he added.

Turkey has stationed tanks on hills overlooking Kobane but has refused to help the Kurdish militias on the ground, suspicious of their links to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) and demanding broader U.S. action that would target Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as ISIS.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara was facilitating the passage of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces which are also fighting Islamic State in Iraq.

Cavusoglu stopped short of saying whether Ankara backed the U.S. decision to air-drop the weapons.

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