Turkey’s foreign minister said his country is helping Iraqi Kurdish forces cross into the Syrian border town of Kobani "to give support" to fellow Kurdish fighters defending the town against Islamic State militants.
The remarks by Mevlut Cavusoglu at a news conference in Ankara followed the announcement by the US military that it had, for the first time, air-dropped weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies to the Kurdish forces in Kobani along the Syrian-Turkish border.
Sunday’s airdrops followed weeks of US and coalition airstrikes in and near Kobani. There was no immediate confirmation by Kurdish officials of the airdrop or what kind of weapons it included.
The drops are almost certain to anger the Turkish government, which has said it would oppose any US arms transfers to the Kurdish rebels in Syria. Turkey views the main Kurdish group in Syria as an extension of the Turkish Kurd group known as PKK, which has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terror group by the US and by Nato. However, the US military’s announcement of the drops, coupled with the Turkish foreign minister’s statements, is an unexpected development. It suggests Turkey may be softening its stance on the issue of helping the Syrian Kurds.
However, Cavusoglu did not elaborate and it was not immediately clear whether Turkey was actually allowing Kurdish fighters across the border into Syria, after blocking them for so long.
“Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government announced that they are in co-operation with Turkey and the US,” said Cavusoglu. “Actually, we are helping peshmerga forces to enter into Kobani to give support.”
Cavusoglu spoke at a joint news conference with Tunisian foreign minister Mongi Hamdi.
US president Barack Obama called Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday to discuss the situation in Syria and notify him of the plan to make the airdrops on Sunday, one US administration official told reporters. He would not describe Erdogan’s reaction but said US officials are clear about Turkey’s opposition to any moves that help Kurdish forces, whom Turkey views as an enemy.
In a statement, the US Central Command said US C-130 cargo planes made multiple drops of arms and supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq.
It said the drops were intended to enable continued resistance to Islamic State group’s efforts to take full control of Kobani.
The US said earlier it had launched 11 airstrikes overnight in the Kobani area. Activists said the US-led coalition launched five airstrikes shortly before the overnight airdrops of weapons, activists said. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the “large amount of weapons and ammunition” air-dropped by US planes has reached the main Kurdish militia in Kobani.
The Kurdish fighters in Kobani have been picking up and moving the weapons since they were dropped around dawn, said SHR, which has a network of activists on the ground in Syria.
In recent days, much of the coalition strikes have focused around Kobani, which Islamic State group militants have been trying to seize since mid-September.
Turkey has so far provided sanctuary to an estimated 200,000 Syrians fleeing from Kobani and dozens of nearby villages that were captured by the IS group.
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