Turkey to help Kurdish 'peshmerga' fighters reach besieged Syrian town

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey is facilitating the passage of Kurdish “peshmerga” fighters to the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday.

But he stopped short of saying Ankara backed a decision by the United States to airdrop weapons to the town’s defenders.

Islamic State fighters have for a month laid siege to Kobani, on the Turkish frontier, and only intense bombardments by U.S.-led coalition warplanes have halted their advance.

The United States said it had airdropped medical supplies and weapons to Kurdish forces near Kobani on Sunday, provided by the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq.

Ankara has been under mounting pressure to go beyond humanitarian assistance for those fleeing the violence, but has up to now refused to send its own military across the border or allow arms to flow through its territory into the town.

The Turkish authorities view those defending Kobani with deep suspicion because of their links with the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), outlawed in Turkey as a terrorist group after fighting a three-decades long insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in southeast Turkey.

“We are facilitating the passage of peshmerga forces to Kobani to provide support. Our talks on this subject are continuing,” Cavusoglu said at a news conference on Monday.

He said Turkey did not want Kobani to fall to Islamic State and had been in “full co-operation with the international coalition over Kobani”.


But on the issue of airdrops, Cavusoglu said Ankara viewed the move in the wider context of all regional threats, in an apparent reference to the view expressed by President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday that the Syrian Kurdish PYD, which controls Kobani, is “no different” to the PKK.

“We want the region to be cleared of all threats. We assess the military and medical materials aid provided by our Iraqi Kurdish brothers and airdropped by the United States to all forces defending Kobani in this framework,” he said.

As many as seven other groups are defending Kobani, Cavusoglu said, but he renewed calls for the PYD to co-operate with the wider Syrian FSA opposition and to give up its efforts to carve out autonomous Kurdish regions in Syria.

“For as long as the PYD maintains these aims, it will not receive the support of the FSA and Turkey,” he added.

A foreign ministry official said Turkish airspace had not been used during the airdrops.

Turkey’s relations with the region’s Kurds are complicated. Ties with the KRG are close, and the autonomous region of Iraq is one of Ankara’s few remaining regional allies.

The government wants a definitive peace with the PKK, but that process has faltered in recent months, particularly as Turkey’s failure to intervene militarily in Kobani has provoked fury among many of the country’s 15 million Kurds.

Ankara in its turn has criticized the PYD for not joining the wider struggle to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, something the Turkish authorities have been demanding for years.

Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; writing by Jonny Hogg; editing by Andrew Roche