US drops weapons and ammunition to help Kurdish fighters in Kobani

John Kerry says it would be ‘morally very difficult’ not to support Kurds as Turkey allows fighters from Iraq to help defend town from Isis

The US military has dropped weapons, ammunition and medical aid to Kurdish forces defending Kobani against Islamic State (Isis) militants, while Turkey has said it will allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to reinforce the Syrian border town.

Following several weeks of air strikes by the US-led coalition in and around Kobani, the air drops were the first time weapons and ammunition had been provided to local Kurdish forces.

According to Lahur Jangi Talabani, director of the intelligence agency of the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, 24 tons of small arms and ammunition and 10 tons of medical supplies were delivered to Kobani in three US C-130 cargo planes on Sunday.

The weapons were all supplied by the autonomous Kurdish authorities in Iraq. Turkish media reported that the US military did not use Turkish air space for the airdrops.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said on Monday the Obama administration decided to airdrop weapons and ammunitions to “valiant” Kurds because it would be “irresponsible” and “morally very difficult” not to support them.

Meanwhile the Turkish government said on Monday it would help Kurdish fighters from northern Iraq cross the Turkish border into Syria to fight in Kobani.

Turkey ready to help Kurdish fighters in battle for Kobani. Source: Reuters

Ankara has been under increasing international pressure to provide more than humanitarian aid to refugees fleeing the violence in northern Syria. Kurdish politicians in Syria and Turkey have urged the Turkish government to allow for the passage of fighters and weapons into Kobani through its borders, but so far Ankara has refused all such demands.

It 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.

Kerry told reporters in the Indonesian capital Jakarta that the US administration understood Turkey’s concerns about supplying the Kurds, but said the situation is such in Kobani that the resupplies were deemed absolutely necessary in a “crisis moment”.

“Let me say very respectfully to our allies the Turks that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group and particularly obviously the challenges they face with respect [to] the PKK,” Kerry said. “But we have undertaken a coalition effort to degrade and destroy Isil [another acronym for Islamic State], and Isil is presenting itself in major numbers in this place called Kobani.”

Kerry said the militants had chosen to “make this a ground battle, attacking a small group of people there who, while they are an offshoot group of the folks that our friends the Turks oppose, they are valiantly fighting Isil and we cannot take our eye off the prize here”.

He said: “It would be irresponsible of us, as well morally very difficult, to turn your back on a community fighting Isil as hard as it is at this particular moment.”

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavusoğlu, said the operation was in line with a wider regional effort to fend off Isis, and added that Turkey was ready to allow Iraqi Kurdish forces to cross into Syria.

“We want the region to be cleared of all threats. We assess the military and medical materials aid provided by our Iraqi Kurdish brothers and airdropped by the United States to all forces defending Kobani in this framework”, he said. “There are seven or eight groups that are fighting together with the PYD [the main Syrian Kurdish political group]. The Iraqi-Kurdish regional authorities have also declared that they are cooperating to help Kobani,” Çavusoğlu said. “We are helping peshmerga forces to cross into Kobani. Our discussions regarding that issue are ongoing.”

Some observers pointed out that the perceived policy shift in Ankara was no surprise. Pointing to a string of violent protests that shook Turkey two weeks ago in response to the government’s perceived inaction regarding the crisis in Kobani, Mesut Yegen, a historian of the Kurdish issue, said that Turkey could not risk the fall of the town: “The events from two weeks ago clearly showed that if Kobani should fall, the peace process would end. The Turkish government wanted to test how people would react, and they saw what would have happened. Turkey can no longer be seen as watching the drama in Kobani unfold without doing anything.”

Sores Hesen, spokesperson of the Syrian People’s Defence Corps in Kobani, confirmed that US military and medical aid has reached Kobani and thanked “those that sent them”.

Others were more critical. “The question is also why it took so long to finally deliver military aid to Kobani”, said Özgür Amed, a Kurdish journalist and activist. “Many people here wonder about this. If such aid would have been made weeks ago, Isis would have never been able to make it this far into the town.”

Pervin Buldan, a Kurdish MP in the Turkish parliament, said that “Turkey needed to learn a lesson” from the latest developments in Syria.

“There should have been military aid from the very start, before people were killed and before this problem had grown this much,” he said. “I think Turkey needs to learn a lesson from this. It would be deplorable if Turkey would remain on the sidelines while the balance in the Middle East is recalibrated. This is why it would have been more meaningful if Turkey would have provided humanitarian, military and logistical aid to Kobani from the very start.”


Constanze Letsch in Istanbul and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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