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Turkey to allow Peshmerga, not PKK, to enter Kobane

After weeks of speculation, Turkey announces that it will let Iraqi Peshmerga fighters enter Kobane
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have held their ground against IS (AFP)

Turkey on Monday said it was assisting Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to cross its borders to join Syrian Kurdish forces battling Islamic State in the border town of Kobane.

"We are assisting Peshmerga forces to cross into Kobane," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara, adding that talks on the issue were ongoing but without giving further details.

"We have no wish at all to see Kobane fall" to the militants, he added.

Though Cavusoglu gave few details, speaking at a press conference on Monday, Foreign Ministry sources told Turkish news site Hurriyet that the crossings of Peshmerga forces through Turkish territory into Kobane have already begun.

However, the spokesperson for the Kurdish fighters already in the town, the YPG, told Al Aan TV that no Peshmerga fighters have yet crossed the border, and that there are still no foreign military advisers in Kobane.

According to Rudaw, an Iraqi Kurdish news site, closed talks have been ongoing between Erbil and Ankara for a few days, with no details about the negotiations emerging as yet.

In a sign that the troops may not have a warm reception from people on the ground, the Prime Minister of Kobane told the BBC on Monday that his town needs weapons, and not Peshmerga, in the fight to defend Kobane from IS.

A spokesperson for the Democratic Union Party, the Kurdish party that controls Kobane, told MEE that he is so far unable to comment on the reports. 

The announcement that Iraqi Peshmerga fighters will be sent represents a major turnaround by Turkey, which until now has refused to allow Kurdish fighters to cross its border to join the fight for Kobane just a few kilometres to the south.

Turkish security forces have waged a 30-year conflict with the Kurdish fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), whose battle for self-rule has left 40,000 dead.

But Turkey in the last years has built up strong relations with the Kurdish authorities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq who control the Peshmerga forces.

However, it appears that despite the agreement allowing the Iraqi Peshmerga through to fight in Kobane, Turkey will still block any PKK fighters from entering Syria.

Turkey has come under increasing pressure over the last month to step up its support for the international coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) militants.

But Ankara has so far refused to use its own troops or to let US forces launch their bombing raids on IS from the Incirlik air base in the Turkish province of Adana.

Some have expressed fear that a deployment of Peshmerga fighters to Kobane would leave them short-staffed in the fight against IS in Iraq.

However, Iraq analyst Sajad Jiyed told MEE that there are large numbers of Peshmerga fighters from all across the region, and that expanding the fight to Syria will not negatively affect the battles in Iraq.

"The Peshmerga are not one cohesive, single unit" - there are various units and alliances within the fighters' ranks, and large numbers of people fighting under the name Peshmerga, which simply means "fighter" in Kurdish.

Jiyed says it has been left unclear as to whether the fighters will come just from Iraq or also from other countries with Kurdish populations, though "Iraq is taking the leading role in this."

"With enough coordination, there should be enough numbers to enter Kobane without affecting the existing fronts in Iraq."

US airdrops to Kurdish fighters

The news that Peshmerga forces will soon enter Turkey comes less than a day after the US-led coalition dropped military and humanitarian supplies into Kobane for the first time.

The Kurdistan Regional Presidency has published a statement thanking the US government for their assistance.

“The weapons they sent were from the Kurdish administration, so it seems that the US wants to act as an intermediary,” said Wladimir van Wilgenburg, an Erbil-based analyst for the Jamestown Foundation.

“A big deal has been made here in Erbil about not sending Western weapons and arms to Syria and wanting to stop advanced weaponry from falling into the hands of the IS.”

The Syrian Kurdish forces inside Kobane, known as the PYD, are seen as having links to the outlawed PKK, which has made official coordination difficult.

“The PYD is, for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organisation,” Erdogan told a group of reporters on Sunday. “It would be very wrong for the United States, with whom we are friends and allies in NATO, to talk openly of such support [to the PYD] and expect us to agree."

But, while the US has admitted to coordinating with PYD through third parties, reports emerged on Sunday that the PKK has been in direct contact with US officials “for more than two years.”

According to Nawaf Khalil, the official PYD spokesperson, the two sides have been meeting regularly including face-to-face, including a rendezvous with the US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford.

However, the meetings were kept secret to “avoid angering Turkey,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

Alan Semo, the PYD's spokesperson in the UK, told MEE on Monday that the airdrop included 22 tonnes of ammunition and humanitarian aid.

"They have already started using the ammunition - it is the most efficient way to deal with this crisis."

Though he said that the amount dropped on Kobane this time was "more than enough", Semo also expressed a hope that the policy of airdrops will continue.

"They must not stop it now - whatever the forces on the ground need, they must be supplied with."

Officials from the town have consistently requested help from the international community, particularly in the form of ammunition, and the opening of a humanitarian corridor by Turkey to the border town.

A petition urging the Turkish authorities to take this step has been signed by prominent figures including Noam Chomsky and the Turkish poet Ahmet Umit.

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