Peshmerga Fighters Enter Kobane

Peshmerga Fighters Enter KobanePeshmerga Fighters Enter Kobane

A first group of Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters entered the besieged Syrian town of Kobane on Thursday to help push back IS militants.

Kobane, on the border with Turkey, has been encircled by the insurgents for more than 40 days. Weeks of US-led air strikes have failed to break their stranglehold, and Kurds are hoping the arrival of the Peshmerga will turn the tide. A first contingent of about 10 Peshmerga fighters arrived in Kobane from Turkey to prepare the way for a convoy equipped with heavy weapons, but gunfire and shelling by IS fighters on the border area appeared to be causing delays.

"IS has intensified its attacks on the border gate after the news of the Peshmerga's arrival ... and the clashes have been fierce," Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister of Kobane district, told Reuters. The Peshmerga fighters already in Kobane were trying to secure safe passage for the weapons convoy and the Turkish authorities, fearing a spillover onto Turkish soil, also wanted them to wait until the security situation was clearer, he said.

Around 100 Peshmerga fighters arrived by plane in southeastern Turkey on Wednesday, joined later that night by a land convoy of vehicles carrying arms including a cannon and truck-mounted machine guns. In a compound protected by Turkish security forces near the border town of Suruc, the fighters were donning combat fatigues and preparing their weapons, according to Reuters.

   Violation of Sovereignty

Syria condemned Turkey for allowing foreign fighters and "terrorists" to enter Syria in a violation of its sovereignty. Its foreign ministry described the move as a "disgraceful act".

Turkey, which is a staunch backer of militants fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, dismissed the comments.

Around 200 anti-Syria militants calling themselves Free Syrian Army (FSA) have also entered Kobane from Turkey to support the fight against IS, according to militant commander Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi and a second Turkish government official.

Nizar Al Khateeb, commander of an FSA unit that has been fighting alongside the Kurds in Kobane, said the FSA, Peshmerga and Syrian Kurds would work from the same operations room and had no problem with the YPG, the main Syrian Kurdish armed group defending the town, leading the operation. Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani said he was prepared to deploy more forces to Kobane if asked.

"Whenever the situation on the ground necessitates and more forces are requested from us and there is passage for them, we will send more forces to protect Kobane and defeat terrorists in Western Kurdistan," he said.

  Deepening Conflict

The IS advance has deepened Syria's existing conflict. The United Nations said on Thursday the humanitarian crisis in the country was getting worse with millions of suffering civilians. The United States and its allies in the coalition have made clear they do not plan to send troops to fight IS in Syria or Iraq, but they need fighters on the ground to capitalize on their air strikes. Syrian Kurds have called for the international community to provide them with heavier weapons and munitions and they have received an air drop from the United States.

But NATO member Turkey accuses Kurdish groups in Kobane of links to the militant PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), which has fought a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state and is regarded as a terrorist group by Ankara, Washington and the European Union.

Ankara fears Syria's Kurds will exploit the chaos by following their brethren in Iraq and seeking to carve out an independent state in northern Syria, emboldening PKK militants in Turkey and derailing a fragile peace process.

That has enraged Turkey's own Kurdish minority, complicated efforts to provide aid, and meant the negotiations to enable the passage of the Peshmerga were delicate and complex.

Turkey's pro-Kurdish HDP party, which accuses the government of favoring IS over the Kurds, called for marches on Saturday in solidarity with Kobane.

Around 40 people were killed in violence that swept the southeast earlier this month as Kurdish protesters expressed fury over Turkey's refusal to send its own troops across the border to defend the besieged town.