DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - A second group of 150 Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces has entered the Syrian border town of Kobani from Turkey to replace a first group helping Kurdish forces fight off a siege by Islamic State militants, peshmerga sources said on Thursday.
Despite having limited strategic significance, Kobani has become a powerful international symbol in the battle against hardline Sunni Muslim insurgents who have captured large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic ‘caliphate’. The majority of its inhabitants are Kurds.
“The first group has left Kobani and is en route to the airport right now,” one peshmerga source told Reuters, referring to the 150 Iraqi Kurdish forces who arrived in the besieged town in early November.
The second group of peshmergas arrived in Kobani late on Tuesday, the source added.
Syrian Kurdish fighters, who have been resisting Islamic State fighters in Kobani for nearly three months now, have welcomed the help of fighters who are known as peshmergas or ‘those who defy death’.
However, neither the peshmergas nor the heavy weapons they brought, along with the U.S.-led air strikes meant to push back the Islamist fighters, have so far made significant impact to tip the balance in the battle.
Turkey has refused to take a frontline role in U.S.-led action against Islamic State, insisting that any campaign should include a strategy to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But it has allowed the peshmergas to cross through Turkey into Kobani.
Reporting by Seyhmus Cakan; Writing Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Daren Butler and Ralph Boulton