U.S. Airdrops Arms to Kurdish Forces Fighting Islamic State in Syria

Action comes day after Erdogan said Turkey would not agree to any U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters in Syria.

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Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it is seen from the southeastern village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on October 19, 2014. Credit: AFP

U.S. military aircraft air-dropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies for Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State militants near the Syrian border town of Kobani on Sunday night, the U.S. Central Command said.

In multiple airdrops, U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft "delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies that were provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq and intended to enable continued resistance against ISIL's attempts to overtake Kobani," it said in a statement, using an acronym to refer to Islamic State.

A large quantity of ammunition and weapons has reached the Syrian town of Kobani, Polat Can, a spokesman for Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State militants there, said on his Twitter feed on Monday.

The United States gave Turkey advance notice of its plans to deliver arms to the Syrian Kurds, a group Turkey views with deep distrust because of its links to Turkish Kurds who have fought a decades-long insurgency in which 40,000 people were killed.

"President Obama spoke to Erdogan yesterday and was able to notify him of our intent to do this and the importance that we put on it," one senior U.S. official told reporters.

"We understand the longstanding Turkish concern with the range of groups, including Kurdish groups, that they have been engaged in conflict with," he added. "However, our very strong belief is that both the United States and Turkey face a common enemy in ISIL and that we need to act on an urgent basis." 

The official CentCom statement said 135 air strikes near Kobani in recent days, combined with continued resistance against Islamic State on the ground, had slowed the group's advances into the town and killed hundreds of its fighters.

"However, the security situation in Kobani remains fragile as ISIL continues to threaten the city and Kurdish forces continue to resist," the statement said. It mentioned no new air strikes.

Islamic State mortar attacks

Sources inside Kobani described fierce fighting overnight Saturday between Islamic State fighters and Kurdish militants.

Islamic State, which controls much of Syria and Iraq, fired 44 mortars at Kurdish parts of the town on Saturday, some of which fell inside Turkey, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said four more were fired on Sunday.

The Observatory reported two Islamic State car bombs hit Kurdish positions on Saturday evening leading to casualties. A fighter from the female units of the main Syrian Kurdish militia in Kobani, YPG, said Kurdish fighters were able to detonate the car bombs before they reached their targets.

Action comes day after Erdogan's remarks

Turkey passed a mandate for cross-border military operations in Syria and Iraq but has so far refused to join the military coalition against Islamic State or use force to protect Kobani and has resisted calls to allow the flow of weapons and volunteer fighters into the besieged town.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would not agree to any U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters battling Islamic militants in Syria.

Turkey views the Kurdish fighters as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group.

The state-run Anadolu news agency on Sunday quoted Erdogan as saying the fighters are "equal to the PKK" and that Turkey "would not say 'yes' to such a thing."

"We have warned Turkey"

Just over a week ago, Turkish warplanes attacked PKK targets in southeast Turkey in the first significant air operation against the militants since the launch of a peace process two years ago, Hurriyet news website reported.

Several days before the attack, a senior Kurdish militant threatened Turkey with a new Kurdish revolt if it sticks with its current policy of non-intervention in the battle for Kobani.

"We have warned Turkey. If they continue on this path, then the guerrillas will re-launch our defensive war to protect our people," Cemil Bayik, a founding member of the PKK who is also its most senior figure not in prison, told the German network ARD in Arbil in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region.

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