IRBIL, IRAQ: The long-expected reinforcement of Kurdish forces at the besieged Syrian town of Kobane by men and equipment from Iraq began on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), though it remains uncertain whether the effort will be enough to expel Islamic State (IS) militants.
A convoy of heavy weapons and ammunition set off on Tuesday afternoon from Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, bound to reach Kobane on an overland route that would pass through Turkey. Separately, about 150 members of the KRG’s peshmerga militia boarded an Iraqi military aircraft in Irbil to be flown to an airfield in southern Turkey, from which they would cross into Syria.
Broadcasts showed a convoy of more than a dozen heavy trucks and a number of armored personnel carriers departing Irbil carrying heavy machine guns, artillery and other military hardware and ammunition. The convoy was seen traveling along the main highway to the Turkish border near the Iraqi city of Dohuk, where it was guarded by dozens of peshmerga fighters, dressed in traditional Kurdish garb and not the green military uniforms they normally wear on military operations.
Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani saw the troops off at the airport. Televised news reports showed the president addressing the assembled troops as they stood at attention on the tarmac, though there was no account of what Barzani said.
The dispatch of fighters and weapons marked the conclusion of weeks of debate about what, if anything would be done to help the beleaguered defenders of Kobane, a Kurdish town along the Turkish border that has been under assault by Islamic State for months. But it was hardly the end of the battle for the town.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected entreaties first that he allow Turkish Kurds to cross into Syria to join the town’s defenders, and then that Turkish troops intervene. Erdogan said the town’s defenders were linked to a Kurdish separatist group, which has waged a three-decade war for Kurdish autonomy, that Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
But Erdogan reversed his position after the United States, ignoring Turkey’s objections, began an air assault on Islamic State positions, and then dropped weapons and ammunition to resupply the town’s defenders. The battle for Kobane has become the single biggest action of the US-led campaign against Islamic State; US aircraft have struck the city nearly 170 times in the past month, according to the US Central Command.
Still, there was no guarantee that the amount of aid and men likely to reach Kobane would be decisive.
Islamic State controls 30 percent to 40 percent of the town. It’s unclear how many Syrian Kurdish fighters remain in the city.