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Erdogan: US airdrops to Kobane 'wrong'

The US has pressured Turkey to intervene in Kobane for weeks, yet direct action in Syria represents particular challenges to its neighbour
A view of Kobane in recent days from the Turkish border town of Mursitpinar (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday criticised as "wrong" the airdrops of ammunition and weapons by US planes to Kurdish fighters battling militants in the Syrian town of Kobane.

In an indication of the tensions that remain between Washington and and Ankara on how to deal with the Islamic State group, Erdogan said he could not understand why Kobane was so strategic for the United States.

He said the weapons had fallen into the hands of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) - a Syrian Kurdish group that Ankara sees as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) with whom Turkey has been locked into a three-decades long conflict - and also IS militants.

"It has become clear that this was wrong," Erdogan told reporters at Ankara airport before leaving on a trip to Latvia and Estonia.

US cargo planes earlier this week dropped ammunition, weapons and medical supplies to the Kurdish fighters who have been battling the militants for control of Kobane for over a month.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said at least one of the loads dropped had been picked up by IS. A video purportedly showing this has surfaced online.

But Erdogan indicated that Turkey was equally troubled by the weapons falling into the hands of the PYD, whose armed branch the People's Protection Units (YPG) has led the fight against the militants.

Approximately 40,000 people have died in the past three decades during the ongoing conflict between Ankara and the PKK which is striving for self-rule in Turkey's southeast.  

"Some of the airdrops have fallen into the hands of the PYD and ISIS," Erdogan said, using another name for IS. "It's impossible to achieve results with such an operation."

"Any support you would give PYD would benefit the PKK. And as Turkey we need to fight against this," Erdogan added.

"One should not resort to such actions for appearances' sake," he said of the airdrops.

'Kobane not strategic' 

Turkey's animosity towards the PYD puts it at odds with the United States, which favours supporting the group to fight the militants and says it should not be equated with the PKK.

Ankara has insisted it shares the West's abhorrence of IS but also wants a comprehensive strategy to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after the three-and-a-half year civil war. 

Some analysts have noted the inconsistency of the US position after the country waited three years to intervene directly in the Syrian civil war and as most US officials have maintained that the country will not put boots on the ground.

"Turkey is being asked to enter Syria when no other government is prepared to do the same, for fear of the many potential repercussions of doing so," MEE contributor Sharif Nashashibi wrote in a recent column.  "The dangers for Syria's neighbours are magnified."

Erdogan's comments came after Turkey agreed to allow Kurdish peshmerga fighters to cross its territory to join the fight against IS in Kobane on Monday.

It was only after a unanimous vote on Wednesday, however, that the KRG agreed to actually send the fighters into Kobane in the semi-autonomous region's first military foray into Syria's war.

Erdogan said he had made the proposal to bring the peshmerga to Kobane himself in telephone talks with US President Barack Obama.

But Turkey will only cooperate with the peshmerga and the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army (FSA), and not the PYD, he added.

In contrast to its hostility to the PYD, Turkey in recent years has built up strong relations with the Kurdish authorities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq who control the peshmerga forces.

Erdogan said he believed that there were now no civilians left in Kobane, which lies just south of the Turkish border, and some 2,000 fighters inside the city.

"I don't understand why Kobane is so strategic for the US, there are no civilians left there," he said.

Turkey is hosting 200,000 refugees from the Kobane region and wants a security zone created inside Syria to accommodate them. 

On Wednesday, Emine Erdogan, the Turkish president's wife, reportedly visited Syrian refugees in Gaziantep with Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser  the Emir of Qatar's mother, before Turkish and Qatari officials signed an agreement to provide refugees with educational services, according to Turkish daily Hurriyet.