Iraqi peshmerga troops were cheered Wednesday by fellow Kurds in southeastern Turkey as the fighters slowly made their way toward the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani to try to break a siege there by the Islamic State.
But the ability of the small force to turn the tide of battle will depend on the effectiveness of their weapons and on continued U.S.-led airstrikes against the extremists.
“We are waiting for the peshmerga. We want to see what weapons they have,” said 30-year-old Nidal Attur, who arrived in Suruc two weeks ago from a small village near Kobani.
He and other euphoric Kurds waited for hours along streets in Suruc to catch a glimpse of the peshmerga troops they consider to be heroes. Most were seeing them for the first time.
After a rousing send-off from thousands of cheering supporters a day earlier in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Irbil, the peshmerga forces landed early Wednesday at the Sanliurfa airport in southeastern Turkey.
They left the airport in buses escorted by Turkish security forces and were expected to travel to Kobani later Wednesday. Others traveled to Turkey in trucks and vehicles loaded with cannons and heavy machine guns. They crossed into Turkey through the Habur border gate before daybreak Wednesday and were driving about about 250 miles to Suruc.
The peshmerga troops — about 150 in all — were expected to join up along the road to the Mursitpinar border crossing, where they were to enter Kobani.
The Islamic State group’s offensive on Kobani and nearby Syrian villages has killed more than 800 people, activists say. The Sunni extremists captured dozens of Kurdish villages and control parts of Kobani. More than 200,000 people have fled into Turkey.
The coalition has carried out dozens of airstrikes against the IS in and around Kobani, helping stall their advance. The U.S. Central Command said eight airstrikes struck near Kobani on Tuesday and Wednesday.