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US Drops Supplies to Help Kurdish Fighters in Syria

  • VOA News

The U.S. military says its cargo planes have delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies from Kurdish authorities in Iraq to Kurds battling Islamic State militants in northern Syria.

A U.S. Central Command statement said the airdrops late Sunday in the Kobani area are meant to resupply the Kurds so they can continue holding off the Islamic State group's attempt to overrun the city. The battle for the area just across the border from Turkey has been going on for weeks.

Earlier Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would not arm the Kurdish fighters, calling them "equal" to the Kurdistan Workers Party that both Turkey and the U.S. consider a terrorist group.

Erdogan said "it would be very, very wrong to expect" the Turkish government "to openly say 'yes' to our NATO ally America giving this kind of support. To expect something like this from us is impossible."

He made the comment days after the United States said it held its first direct talks with the Syrian Kurdish political party the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which is tied to the Kurdish fighters in Kobani.

A State Department spokesperson stressed that one meeting does not represent coordination in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Senior officials told reporters that President Barack Obama notified Erdogan during a conversation Saturday that the military would carry out the airdrops.

The officials said the United States understands Turkey's "long-standing concerns," but that both countries are facing a common enemy.

They also highlighted a surge of resources the Islamic State group has sent toward Kobani in the past few weeks, saying that has provided an opportunity for U.S. military operations to target the group's "finite resources." The officials described the people of Kobani as being at risk of massacre, and said delivering supplies was not only a humanitarian mission but also a way to strike a blow against the militants.

The White House said Obama expressed appreciation for Turkey hosting more than one million refugees from the region - including about 400,000 who fled Kobani.

Meanwhile, Islamic State militants continued to attack Kurdish fighters in and around Kobani with mortars and car bombs, sources in the city and a monitoring group said on Sunday.

Islamic State militants fired 44 mortars at Kurdish parts of the city on Saturday, with some of the shells falling inside the nearby Turkish border, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group said four more mortars were fired on Sunday.

Death toll

The Observatory said 70 Islamic State fighters had been killed in the past two days, according to sources at the hospital in the nearby town of Tel Abyab, where Islamic State bodies are taken. The group also said seven Kurdish fighters were killed.

Reuters cannot independently confirm the reports due to security restrictions.

U.S. officials said coalition jets also made eight airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria overnight, six of those in Kobani, as fighting continued for control of the key border city of Kobani.

Sunday morning saw a brief lull in the militants' shelling of the city, but VOA correspondent Scott Bobb, reporting from the Turkish side of the border, said that by early afternoon mortar and artillery fire was picking up, with some shells landing in the western part of Kobani and some near the border crossing with Turkey.

Kurdish sources told Bobb the situation in Kobani has improved somewhat, adding that they have been able to regain control of some surrounding villages.

A top Kobani city official told The Associated Press that coalition airstrikes have slowed down Islamic State militants but that air power is not enough. The official said Kurdish fighters need more weapons and ammunition.

Volunteer aid reportedly blocked

Also on Sunday, Turkish authorities have stopped civic activists from France, Germany and some other EU countries from taking much needed medicines and food supplies to Kobani, volunteers told VOA.

An activist from France, Ari Harki, told VOA’s Kurdish Service from the border near Kobani that Turkish authorities are not only stopping the medical and food supplies but also preventing Kurdish fighters from reentering Syria to fight the militants.

"Turkey is not only preventing us (activists) to cross the border but also Kobani’s residents who brought their kids and elders to the border area to return to the city to fight against the Islamic State," said Harki.

Harki is among ten volunteers from different EU countries who are in Turkey trying to head across the border into Syria with relief goods. He told VOA that people inside Kobani are in severe need of medicines and medical supplies as most of the city’s hospitals and pharmacies have been destroyed by shelling from Islamist State militants.

Strategic point

Turkish and U.S. officials said last week that Islamic State fighters were on the verge of taking Kobani from its heavily outgunned Kurdish defenders, after seizing strategic points deep inside the town.

The four-week Islamic State assault has been seen as a test of U.S. President Barack Obama's airstrike strategy, and Kurdish leaders said the town cannot survive without arms and ammunition reaching the defenders, something neighboring Turkey has so far refused to allow.

The Islamic State group has been keen to take the town to consolidate its position in northern Syria after seizing large amounts of territory in the country and in Iraq.

A defeat of Islamic State militants in Kobani would be a major setback for the Islamists and a boost for the U.S.-led, anti-Islamic State coalition.

The coalition has been bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq since August and extended the campaign to Syria in September.

Iraq strikes; memorials

Meanwhile, Iraqi state television reports that Iraqi airstrikes have killed 60 Islamic State fighters in Anbar province.

Also Saturday, the family of British aid worker David Haines, who was beheaded by the Islamic State group last month, held a memorial service in Scotland. Mourners also honored another aid worker kidnapped and murdered by the militants, Alan Henning.

Islamic State militants had also beheaded two U.S. journalists - James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

The militants said they killed the four Westerners to avenge U.S.-led airstrikes. But many leading Muslim officials condemned militants, calling the murders un-Islamic.

VOA's Scott Bobb contributed to this report from Suruc, Turkey. Kokab Farshori from VOA's Kurdish Service also contributed. Some material for this report came from Reuters.

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