US military airdrops weapons, ammunition to Kurds near Kobane

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The American military for the first time airdropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Syrian Kurds in the battleground city of Kobane, US Central Command said, in a move likely to anger key ally Turkey.

A C-130 cargo aircraft conducted "multiple" airdrops of the supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq. The supplies were "intended to enable continued resistance against ISIL's attempts to overtake Kobane," CENTCOM said in a statement, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

It is the first time the US has made airdrops to Kurdish fighters defending Kobane and it represents an escalation in Washington's efforts to support Syrian opposition forces against both ISIS militants and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The aircraft faced no resistance from the air or the ground. They were not accompanied by fighter jets and exited the area safely, a senior Obama administration official said. The official did to rule out a repeat operation if needed, possibly in the near future.

The United States and its Western allies have been pressing Turkey to take a more direct role in taking on the militant fighters in Kobane, but Ankara is reluctant to arm Kurds and intervene militarily against the militants, fearing an effective fighting force from its historic foes on its border.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier rejected calls for his country to arm the main Kurdish party in Syria, describing the group as a terrorist organisation, linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a 30-year insurgency for self-rule in southeastern Turkey.

Asked whether the Turkish government was informed beforehand of the resupply drop, a senior administration official in Washington said President Barack Obama spoke to Erdogan on Saturday "and was able to notify him of our intent to do this and importance we put on it."

The official added: "We understand the longstanding Turkish concern with the range of groups, including Kurdish groups, they have been engaged in conflict with and in peace talks with." However, the official said, ISIS was "a common enemy" for the United States and Turkey.

American-led warplanes launched 11 air strikes near Kobane on Saturday and Sunday, CENTCOM said, helping Kurdish fighters repulse a new ISIS attempt to cut their supply lines from Turkey.

So far, US forces have conducted more than 135 airstrikes against ISIS in Kobane alone.

One senior US administration official said that Kurdish fighters had put up an "impressive" effort in the face of the emboldened IS organization, but cautioned that Kobane could still fall to the militants and the security situation was "fluid". Nevertheless, "hundreds" of IS fighters had been killed in the campaign for Kobane and "scores" of pieces of equipment and positions destroyed, the official said.

"However, the security situation in Kobane remains fragile as ISIL continues to threaten the city and Kurdish forces continue to resist." CENTCOM Commander General Lloyd Austin has warned that the city could fall.

Kobane's Kurdish defenders have been under militant assault for more than a month.

From Saturday into Sunday morning, 31 militants died in the battle, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Coalition air strikes near Kobane hit 20 militant fighting positions, five militant vehicles and two militant-held buildings, according to CENTCOM.

The Observatory, which has a network of sources inside Syria, said 15 fighters were killed in the air strikes, while 16 others died in ground clashes along with seven Kurdish fighters.

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