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Turkey to Allow Iraqi Kurds to Reinforce Kobani

by VOA News October 20, 2014

Turkey said on Monday it is helping Iraqi Kurds cross into Syria to aid Kurdish fighters in Kobani as they battle to hold off an advance by Islamic State militants.

The announcement Monday by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu came as the U.S. said it airdropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies from Kurdish authorities in Iraq to the Kurdish forces defending Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab and located just south of the Turkish border.

Cavusoglu offered no additional details of Turkey's assistance for the peshmerga fighters. But he said Ankara wants to eliminate threats along the border region and is cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State jihadists.

'We are fully cooperating with the coalition with respect to Kobani. We want to eliminate all kind of threats in the region and we see the military and medical aid, outfitted by our Iraqi Kurdish brothers and airdropped by the United States to all groups defending Kobani, from that perspective,' Cavusoglu said.

Multiple airdrops

Also Monday, the U.S. Central Command said three C-130 aircraft carried out multiple successful airdrops of supplies on Sunday in the vicinity of Kobani.

The airdrops, the first in the fight for the border town, were 'intended to enable continued resistance against ISIL's attempts to overtake Kobani,' the U.S. Central Command statement said. The acronym is another name for the Islamic State group.

A Turkish foreign ministry official said on Monday that Turkish airspace was not used during the airdrops carried out by the United States.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would not arm the Kurdish fighters, calling them 'equal' to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that both Turkey and the U.S. consider a terrorist group.

Ankara bombed the PKK last week in southeastern Turkey.

Senior officials told reporters that U.S. President Barack Obama notified Erdogan during a conversation late Saturday that the military would carry out the airdrops.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it would have been 'irresponsible' and 'morally very difficult' for the United States to not support the Kurdish fighters.

However, Kerry acknowledged Turkish concerns about support for the Kurds, and said the airdrop of supplies provided by the Kurdish authorities in Iraq did not amount to a change of U.S. policy.

"We understand fully the fundamentals of (Ankara's) opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group, and particularly, obviously, the challenges they face with respect to the PKK," Kerry told reporters on Monday.

But he added: "We cannot take our eye off the prize here. It would be irresponsible of us, as well as morally very difficult, to turn your back on a community fighting ISIL."

Senior officials also said the build-up of Islamic State forces near Kobani in recent weeks has provided an opportunity for U.S. military operations to target the group's 'finite resources.'

The officials described the people of Kobani as being at risk of massacre, and said delivering supplies was not only a humanitarian mission but also a way to strike a blow against the militants.

Airstrikes in Syria, Iraq

Meanwhile, the U.S. military conducted six airstrikes against Islamic State militants near Kobani on Sunday and Monday, Central Command said in a statement.

U.S. forces, in coordination with Iraqi ground troops, also conducted six airstrikes against the militant group in Iraq near Fallujah and Bayji with help from France and the United Kingdom, the statement said.

The U.S. statement said 135 U.S.-led airstrikes near Kobani have helped slow the Islamic State group's advances in a battle the Pentagon insists has left hundreds of jihadist fighters dead.

Also on Monday, Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb said the country has no plans to provide the United States with direct military assistance in its war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, even though American aerial bombardment may not be enough to defeat the group.

But Mehleb left open the possibility of military action if Cairo's Gulf Arab allies are threatened by the al-Qaida offshoot.

With one of the biggest armies in the Middle East and wide experience in battling militancy, Egypt is regarded as a vital ally for the United States, which provides billions of dollars in annual aid to Cairo.

Mehleb said Egypt's priority is ensuring stability at home, where security officials face resilient jihadist insurgents based in the Sinai Peninsula and regard militants in neighboring Libya as a serious threat.

Recruitment of foreign fighters

In Indonesia, where he attended the inauguration of new President Joko Widodo, Kerry on Monday sought support in Asia for the fight against Islamic State militants, specifically ways to disrupt the recruitment of foreign fighters.

He met with officials from Indonesia, Australia, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

An official traveling with Kerry said he is hopeful Indonesia and its predominantly Muslim neighbors Malaysia and Brunei can play a significant role in confronting Islamist extremism.

VOA Correspondent Scott Bobb on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border near Kobani said a few explosions could be heard in Kobani Monday morning.

Syrian refugees who had spoken with family and friends still in Kobani told the VOA that the airdrops of weapons and medical supplies give them hope and they see the action as a vote of confidence from the U.S.-led coalition.

Meanwhile in neighboring Iraq, militants unleashed new bomb attacks that killed at least 33 people at a Baghdad mosque and in the holy city of Karbala.

Scott Bobb contributed to this report from Turkey. Some material for this report came from Reuters and AFP.

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