US aircraft have airdropped arms to Kurdish forces defending Kobane from Islamic State (IS) jihadists, as Turkey says it will allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters passage into the Syrian border town.
American C-130 planes delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies provided by Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters on Sunday, according to a statement from US Central Command. The operation was intended to "enable continued resistance against ISIL's attempts to overtake Kobane," CentCom added, using the former name for the Islamic State.
YPG spokesperson Redur Xelil told Reuters that the weapons would "help greatly" in the fight against IS. "The military assistance dropped by American planes at dawn on Kobane was good and we thank America for this support," he said.
Meanwhile Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusogl, told reporters on Monday that authorities were helping KRG peshmerga troops to cross into Kobane, also known as Ayn al-Arab, and that talks on the subject were ongoing. "We never wanted Kobane to fall," he insisted at a press conference in Ankara, a reference to criticism from the Kurds and the international community over Turkey's lack of action against the jihadists on its doorstep.
Kobane is surrounded on three sides by IS and is bordered to the north by Turkey. The Turkish government has thus far refused repeated requests to open a land corridor allowing humanitarian and military supplies into the town, leading to accusations of tacit complicity in the IS assault on the Kurds, whose struggle for greater autonomy has long been a thorn in Ankara's side.
Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, last week met with Salih Muslim, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) which is headquartered in Kobane, and YPG commanders to discuss the battle for the town.
The US airdrops seemed certain to anger Turkey, which has previously stated its opposition to arming the YPG because of its affiliations with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The PKK has fought a 30 year insurgency against Turkish armed forces and is designated a terrorist group by Ankara, as well as the US and NATO.
The US launched a series of airstrikes on IS targets in August, then extended operations into Syria in September. American planes have now carried out more than 135 airstrikes again IS in Kobane, according to the Centcom statement, which it says are indicated to have "slowed ISIL [S] advances into the city, killed hundreds of their fighters and destroyed or damaged scores of pieces of ISIL combat equipment and fighting positions."
The battle for the town has raged since IS launched a major offensive last month, eventually moving into Kobane itself. It would be a major propaganda victory for IS and also allow the extremist group to connect territory held in the Syrian province of Aleppo with its stronghold of Raqqa further east. It would also give IS control over a large stretch of the Turkish border.
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