Turkey clears way for Kurdish reinforcements to battle Islamic State


Turkey agreed on Monday to allow passage for Iraqi Kurdish fighters seeking to join Syrian Kurds battling the Islamic State, signaling another potential boost for embattled Kobane after U.S. airdrops of weapons and ammunition.

But Turkish government officials stressed there was still no firm deal in place. Kurds defending the Syrian border town also said they had not yet cleared the way for Iraqi Kurds — underscoring deep Kurdish differences despite their common enemy.

Still, the decision by NATO-member Turkey marks a possible breakthrough in its political calculations over aiding the U.S.-led battles against the Islamic State, a radical al-Qaeda offshoot also known as ISIS or ISIL.

A major consideration for Turkey is the interconnection between various factions of Kurds, whose ethnic homeland spreads across Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Turkey had opposed delivering weapons to Kobane’s Syrian Kurds because of their affiliations with a Kurdish group in Turkey that began an insurgency three decades ago.

Kurds have their own rifts to overcome. The main Syrian Kurdish party is wary that its power could be undermined by allowing in the more politically connected Iraqi Kurds, who maintain close ties with the West.

Idriss Nasaan, deputy foreign minister in the self-styled Kurdish government of Kobane, said the Iraqi Kurdish fighters would only be welcome if they “agree to fight under the command’’ of the Syrian Kurds.

Despite the complications in opening a route for reinforcements, the U.S.-dropped supplies gave an immediate boost in the battle for Kobane, which is within sight of the Turkish border and has been the target of escalating American-led airstrikes.

One of the air attacks Monday blasted a “stray” shipment from the U.S. airdrop to prevent “these supplies from falling into enemy hands,” the U.S. Central Command said.

Last week, Kurds in Kobane said they had turned the tide of the battle and forced the Islamic State from several areas of the town. But Syrian Kurds also warned they were running low on weapons and ammunition.

The U.S. airdrops overnight Sunday followed a telephone call between President Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was informed about the mission.

Hours later, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey would also allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters, known as pesh merga, to cross into Syria to fight alongside the Syrian Kurds.

“We never wanted Kobane to fall,” Cavusoglu told a news conference in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

The deal followed days of talks in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Dahuk between Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish factions as well as U.S. officials.

The Kobane fighters are affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a group based in southeastern Turkey that has fought Turkish forces since the mid-1980s, seeking greater autonomy. Its leaders have threatened to tear up a recent peace accord with Turkey if Kobane fell.

Both Turkey and the United States have declared the PKK a terrorist organization, raising additional wrinkles for American policymakers.

The airdrops — totaling what officials said were 27 “bundles” of supplies delivered by three C-130 cargo planes — followed a week of intensive U.S. and coalition airstrikes against militant forces in and around Kobane.

U.S. officials did not specify where the planes took off, but said the operation lasted about four hours. The C-130s, which fly low and slowly, were not accompanied by fighter jets, they said, because the Islamic State is not thought to have antiaircraft weapons.

Over the past week, the administration has tried unsuccessfully to persuade Turkey to open its border to the resupply.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said he understood Turkey’s delicate situation with the PKK, but he stressed that it would be “irresponsible” not to send aid to the Kurdish fighters in Kobane.

“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,” he said in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The Syrian Kurds in Kobane “are valiantly fighting ISIL and we cannot take our eye off the prize here,” Kerry added.

Turkey also has tried to leverage its support for the coalition effort to secure a U.S. pledge to expand its military campaign against the Islamic State to a fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The Turkish foreign minister Cavusoglu said further concessions are sought from the Syrian Kurds. Turkey wants to them to unite against Assad and give up demands for autonomy over their region in order to receive Turkish aid.

DeYoung reported from Washington. Missy Ryan and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

The Washington Post

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