Middle East

Islamic State: Turkey to let Iraq Kurds join Kobane fight

Media captionMore footage purporting to show IS fighters in Kobane has emerged

Turkey is to allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to cross the Syrian border to fight Islamic State (IS) militants in Kobane, in what is being seen as a policy reversal.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said talks on the subject were continuing.

Tens of thousands of people have fled months of fighting in Kobane between IS forces and Syrian Kurd defenders.

The announcement came shortly after the US carried out airdrops of weapons to the town's Kurdish fighters.

US Central Command also confirmed six air strikes by the US-led coalition near Kobane over Sunday and Monday, as well as six in Iraq near Falluja and Baiji involving French and UK aircraft.

The BBC's Kasra Naji on the Turkish border says Kobane was largely quiet for a second day with Kurdish fighters apparently having driven IS militants from most of the town, but fierce fighting broke out in the north as night fell.

The Turkish government decision is a major boost for the defenders' morale, our correspondent adds, and soon for their fighting capability.


Analysis: Mark Lowen, BBC News, Istanbul

This is, on one level, a significant and unexpected shift by the Turkish government.

After refusing permission for fighters to cross its territory to join the Kurdish militia in Syria it has made a U-turn of sorts, assisting Peshmerga fighters to enter Kobane, probably by providing safe passage through Turkey, though the details are not yet known.

But there is a delicate political dance here. On Sunday, Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, took his traditional tough line on the Kurdish militia in Syria, calling them "terrorists" and saying that they must not be armed by Turkey or the US.

Then Washington went ahead and did just that, dropping weapons to Kurdish fighters around Kobane, quite possibly with tacit Turkish approval during a phone call that took place between the two presidents.

And a day later, Ankara admitted it was helping Peshmerga enter Syria. This is most likely realpolitik by the Turkish government, saying one thing for domestic consumption, to ward off criticism by Turks that it's helping the Kurds, and another to the White House, agreeing to help Kurdish fighters in a way that is acceptable back home.

Why Turkey prefers Iraq's Kurds to its own


Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Turkey has up till now been reluctant to allow Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to cross the border

The rapid advance of IS in both Syria and Iraq, where it controls large chunks of territory, has rattled the West prompting the air strikes.

And on Monday UN human rights chief Ivan Simonovic put the spotlight on its treatment of minorities, saying its actions may amount to war crimes.

Its atrocities against the Yazidi people in particular amounted to attempted genocide, he said.

Insurgency

Media captionJeremy Woodward: "Killing an Isis member is doing a good deed to the world"

Turkey, faced with a long insurgency by its own Kurds, has up till now barred access for Kurdish fighters to Syria.

The government in Ankara fought a decades-long conflict with the PKK, which it brands as a terrorist organisation. The PKK campaigns for greater autonomy in Turkey and has links with the Syrian Kurds defending Kobane.

But the Kurdish Rudaw news agency reports that Ankara has now accepted a request from Massoud Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish leader, to allow Iraq's Peshmerga forces through Turkish territory.

The BBC's Mark Lowen in Istanbul says that Turkey sees Iraq's Kurds as more reliable and less threatening, coming from a semi-autonomous state with which it can do business.

Turkey has come under pressure from its own Kurdish population, and more widely, to allow fighters in to help push IS out of Kobane, a town that has become highly symbolic of the wider battle against IS.

"Turkey has no wish to see Kobane fall," Mr Cavusoglu added.

But a senior Kurdish official responsible for defence in Kobane, Ismet Hesen, told the BBC that his forces already had the initiative against IS and they needed heavy weapons rather than extra manpower.

"If any force would like to come to fight with us here, forces on the ground doing the fighting here should be consulted first," he said.

Only hours before Mr Cavusoglu's comments, the United States military said it had carried out airdrops of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to the Syrian Kurdish fighters around Kobane.

Media captionKasra Naji reports on the airdrops from the Turkey-Syria border

Officials said three planes - C130 Hercules - were involved and 27 bundles were delivered.

In a later statement, Centcom said one bundle had gone astray, but was destroyed in a subsequent air strike to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.

Justifying the airdrops in the face of Turkish misgivings, US Secretary of State John Kerry said it would be "morally difficult" not to support the "valiant Kurds".

"Let me say very respectfully to our allies the Turks that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group and particularly obviously the challenges they face with respect [to] the PKK," Mr Kerry said.

Kobane is a strategic objective for IS, and fierce fighting has raged in the town for weeks, forcing the evacuation of most of its civilian inhabitants.

The IS advance in Syria takes place against the backdrop of the civil war. US-led air strikes are being conducted there without the permission of President Bashar al-Assad, who the West wants to relinquish power.

In Iraq, the air campaign is taking place with the co-operation of the government. The advance of IS there earlier this year has taken it to close to the capital, Baghdad.


Who are Islamic State (IS)?

Media captionIn 60 seconds: What does Islamic State want?
  • Formed out of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2013, IS first captured Raqqa in eastern Syria
  • It captured broad swathes of Iraq in June, including Mosul, and declared a "caliphate" in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq
  • Pursuing an extreme form of Sunni Islam, IS has persecuted non-Muslims such as Yazidis and Christians, as well as Shia Muslims, whom it regards as heretics
  • Known for its brutal tactics, including beheadings of soldiers, journalists and aid workers
  • The CIA says the group could have as many as 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria


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