Turkey said on Monday it would allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to reinforce fellow Kurds in the Syrian town of Kobani, while the United States air-dropped arms for the first time to help the defenders resist an Islamic State assault.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington had asked Ankara to help “get the peshmerga or other groups” into Kobani so that they could help defend the town on the Turkish frontier, adding that he hoped the Kurds would “take this fight on”.
If the reinforcements come through, this may mark a turning point in the battle for Kobani, a town that has become a frontline of the battle to foil Islamic State’s attempt to reshape the Middle East.
The Syrian Kurds have struggled for weeks against better armed Islamic State fighters. U.S.-led air strikes have helped the Kurds avoid defeat, but they have been unable to resupply fighters besieged on three sides by Islamic State and blocked by Turkey from bringing fighters or weapons over the border. Meanwhile, the Kurdish administration in Syria has said thousands of fighters are ready to cross to Kobani from other Kurdish areas of northeastern Syria if Turkey allows them to.
Ankara views the Syrian Kurds with deep suspicion because of their ties to the PKK, a group that waged a decades-long terrorist campaign for Kurdish rights in Turkey and which Washington regards as a terrorist organization.
Speaking in Indonesia, Kerry acknowledged Turkish concerns about support for the Kurds, and said the air-drop of supplies provided by the Kurdish authorities in Iraq did not amount to a change of U.S. policy.
He indicated that the battle against Islamic State, that has seized large areas of Syria and Iraq, was an overriding consideration.