Peshmerga troops heading to Kobani

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Published: Thursday 30th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Iraqi peshmerga troops were cheered by fellow Kurds in Turkey as they headed to the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani to try to break a siege by Islamic State (IS) militants.

But the ability of the small force to turn the tide of battle will depend on the effectiveness of their weapons and on continued US-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 Irbil, the peshmerga forces landed yesterday at the Sanliurfa airport in south-eastern Turkey.

They left the airport in buses escorted by Turkish security forces to go to Kobani. Others travelled to Turkey in trucks and vehicles loaded with cannons and heavy machine guns. They crossed into Turkey through the Habur border gate and were driving about 400 250 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.

Separately, a small group of Syrian rebels entered Kobani from Turkey in a push to help Kurdish fighters there against the militants.

The group of about 50 armed men is from the Free Syrian Army and is separate from Iraqi peshmerga fighters.

The FSA is an umbrella group of mainstream rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. The political leadership of the Western-backed FSA is based in Turkey, where fighters often seek respite from battle.

Kurdish fighters in Syria, known as the People’s Protection Units or YPG, have been struggling to defend Kobani against IS since mid-September, despite dozens of coalition airstrikes against the extremists.

It is not clear what impact this small but battle-hardened combined force of FSA and peshmerga fighters – and their combined weaponry – will have in the battle for Kobani.

Kurdish fighters are already sharing information with the coalition to co-ordinate strikes against IS militants there, but the new force may help improve efforts and offer additional battlefield support.

Nawaf Khalil, Europe-based spokesman for Syria’s leading Kurdish Democratic Union Party, said the peshmerga force was “symbolic in number” but their weapons will play a positive role in Kobani.

Syrian Kurds have begged the international community for heavy weapons – like the ones delivered by the US and its allies to Iraq’s Kurds – to bolster the outgunned defenders of Kobani.

Earlier this month, the US dropped weapons, ammunition and other supplies for the first time following concern that Kobani was about to fall.

That, along with daily US airstrikes and a fierce determination by the Kurdish fighters, has stalled the IS advance.

The IS 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 militants in and around Kobani, helping stall their advance.

The fighting in Kobani has deadlocked recently, with neither side getting the upper hand.

Under pressure to take greater action against the IS militants – from the West as well as from Kurds in Turkey and Syria – the Turkish government agreed to let the fighters cross through its territory.

But it only is allowing the peshmerga forces from Iraq, with whom it has a good relationship, and not those from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Ankara views the Syrian Kurds defending Kobani as loyal to what it regards as an extension of the PKK. That group has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the US and Nato.

The battle for Kobani is a small part in a larger war in Syria that has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people since 2011, according to activists.

The conflict began with largely peaceful protests calling for reform. It eventually spiralled into a civil war as people took up arms following a brutal crackdown by Assad on the protest movement.

Elsewhere in Syria, at least 10 civilians were killed yesterday when army helicopters dropped two barrel bombs that landed at a makeshift refugee camp in the northern province of Idlib, opposition activists said.

A car bomb exploded in a government-held district of the city of Homs, killing at least one person and wounding 25 others, a local official said.

Published: Thursday 30th October 2014 by The News Editor

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