Turkey to let Iraqi Kurds use its territory to reinforce Kobani

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The U.S. increased the amount of airstrikes carried out in Syria this week, helping slow the advance of the extremist group near Kobani.

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(CNN) — Turkey has decided to allow Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from Iraq to use Turkish territory to cross into Syria to reinforce fighters defending Kobani, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters Monday.

The decision comes a day after the U.S. military airdropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish fighters in Kobani to beef up the defense against ISIS forces, the Pentagon said.

Kurdish authorities in Iraq provided the material, the military said.

The move was partly humanitarian but also aimed at shoring up the Kurdish defenders of Kobani, senior Obama administration officials said — acknowledging it was a shift in the administration’s tactics to date.

“This is a part of the President’s larger strategy to degrade and destroy ISIL wherever they are,” one official said, using the term favored by the administration and some other nations’ in referring to ISIS, which also calls itself the Islamic State.

The gear was delivered by three C-130 cargo planes and appeared to have been received on the ground by Kurdish fighters, senior Obama administration officials said.

There have been reports that ISIS may have anti-aircraft missiles, but the officials said they had no evidence to back those reports and that the cargo planes flew in unescorted.

Consultation with Turkey

President Barack Obama notified Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the drop in a phone conversation Saturday night, administration officials said.

“We have made clear to the Turkish government for some days now the urgency of facilitating resupply to those forces,” one official said.

Hours later, Erdogan was quoted in the Turkish press saying it would be inappropriate for the United States to arm Kurdish militants in Kobani whom he considers terrorists.

Cavusoglu, however, said that Turkish officials had evaluated “the United States’ airdrop of military and medical aid that was provided by our Iraqi Kurdish brothers to Kobani and all the forces that are defending Kobani within this framework. And we are helping Peshmerga forces to cross into Kobani for support. Talks on this are continuing.”

But he said Turkey is not ready to back fully the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PYD.

The party is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant group in Turkey considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and many Western nations.

Cavusoglu equated the PYD with ISIS, saying both aim to control Syrian territory, which Turkey and the Free Syrian Army both oppose.

“We think it (the PYD) is a threat to Syria’s future, territorial integrity and democratic structure and as long as the PYD continues with these goals, it cannot get the support of the Free Syrian Army or Turkey,” Cavusoglu said.

Unrelenting battle

Meanwhile, Koban is the scene of an unrelenting battle.

On Sunday, brief moments of calm were punctuated by sounds of firing from both sides.

ISIS has shelled the city at least 16 times, sources said, with coalition planes flying low overhead.

The United States has generally downplayed the importance of Kobani as a key city in the battle against the militants.

However, if ISIS takes Kobani, it would mean the group would control land between the northern Syrian city of Raqqa and Turkey — about 100 kilometers (60 miles).

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria took control of Raqqa last year. ISIS uses the once-liberal city as a kind of headquarters where it applies its hard-line interpretation of Islamic law, terrorizing the population.

With the help of airstrikes from an international coalition led by the United States, Kurdish and Iraqi forces are now focused on pushing ISIS back from its relentless attempt to take Kobani.

Official: Strategy working

The strategy against ISIS is working, said Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, last week.

U.S. warplanes struck only twice Friday and Saturday in the city, Central Command said, both times targeting ISIS fighting positions. That’s far fewer strikes than days before. U.S. jets flew at least 14 missions near Kobani on Thursday and Friday, the military reported.

It will take “strategic patience” to beat ISIS, Austin said.

A heavy hit?

ISIS has apparently taken a heavy hit over the past several days. The bodies of at least 70 fighters for the terror group have been dropped off over four days at a hospital in the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, a Syrian opposition group told CNN. Tal Abyad is on the Turkish border and about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Raqqa.

It’s unclear who dropped the bodies of the ISIS fighters off at the hospital, but it was likely other fighters from the militant group, because they control Tal Abyad.

CNN’s Laura Koran, Ashley Fantz, Raja Razek and journalist Zeynep Bilginsoy contributed to this report.

By Brian Walker

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