RIGA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday agreement had been reached on sending 200 Kurdish peshmerga fighters from Iraq through Turkey to help defend the Syrian border town of Kobani against Islamic State militants.
A senior official in Iraq’s Kurdistan region told Reuters the peshmerga would be equipped with heavier weapons than those being used by Kurdish fighters in Kobani, who say they need armor-piercing weapons to fend off Islamic State.
Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers on Wednesday approved sending the fighters, marking the semi-autonomous region’s first military foray into Syria’s war.
“I have learned that they finally reached agreement on a figure of 200 (fighters),” Erdogan told a news conference in the Latvian capital Riga.
Peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hikmat said preparations to deploy to Kobani were going on, but it would not happen on Thursday.
Islamic State, keen to consolidate territorial gains in northern Syria, has pressed an offensive on Kobani even as U.S.-led forces continue bombing the militants’ positions.
The United States has air-dropped weapons and medical supplies to Kurds in Kobani provided by Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Erdogan on Thursday renewed criticism of the move, describing the main Kurdish force defending the town as a “terrorist” group.
“Did Turkey view this business positively? No it didn’t. America did this in spite of Turkey and I told him Kobani is not currently a strategic place for you, if anything it is strategic for us,” he said of a telephone call with U.S. President Barack Obama at the weekend.
Reporting by Aija Krutaine and Humeyra Pamuk and Isabel Coles in Arbil; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Janet Lawrence