Despite Turkey's Objections, US Airdrops Weapons to Syrian Kurds Fighting ISIS

By Patrick Goodenough | October 20, 2014 | 2:22am EDT

Smoke from a fire rises following a strike in Kobani, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

( – For the first time, U.S. aircraft on Sunday night dropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Syrian Kurdish forces defending the strategic border town of Kobani against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL).

The announcement by U.S. Central Command came hours after Turkish media quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as rejecting any U.S. plan to arm the main Syrian Kurdish group fighting in Kobani, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Erdogan says it is a terrorist organization.

Central Command said the provisions airdropped from U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft had been “provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq and [was] intended to enable continued resistance against ISIL’s attempts to overtake Kobani.

The multiple airdrops were “another example of U.S. resolve to deny ISIL key terrain and safe haven as well as our commitment to assist those forces who oppose ISIL.”

Central Command also reported that U.S. forces have carried out more than 135 airstrikes against the jihadist group’s targets in Kobani, which is adjacent to the Syria-Turkey border, over recent weeks.

“Combined with continued resistance to ISIL on the ground, indications are that these strikes have slowed ISIL advances into the city, killed hundreds of their fighters and destroyed or damaged scores of pieces of ISIL combat equipment and fighting positions,” it said.

“However, the security situation in Kobani remains fragile as ISIL continues to threaten the city and Kurdish forces continue to resist. As the U.S. Central Command commander [Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III] has noted, Kobani could still fall.”

In a conference call briefing after the mission, senior administration officials speaking on background said 27 packages of small arms, ammunition and medical supplies had been dropped from three aircraft.

The Obama administration says Turkey is an important and committed member of the coalition built to combat ISIS, although there are key differences between the two allies.

A State Department official last week for the first time held direct talks with a PYD representative in Paris. But Erdogan opposes the Syrian Kurdish group because it has links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed separatist organization which Turkey views as a terrorist group.

For largely that reason, Turkey has refused to intervene in the fighting just across its border. It has also prevented Kurds from crossing into Syrian territory to help the town’s defenders in their fight against ISIS.

On Sunday Erdogan was quoted by Turkey’s Anadolu state news agency as rejecting any U.S. plans to arm the PYD.

“The PYD is for us equal to the PKK. It is a terror organization,” he said. “It would be wrong for the United States, with whom we are friends and allies in NATO, to talk openly and to expect us to say ‘yes’ to such a support to a terrorist organization.”

One of the administration officials taking part in Sunday night’s conference call briefing acknowledged Turkey’s objections.

“Clearly we understand the longstanding Turkish concern with their range of groups, including Kurdish groups, that they’ve been engaged with in conflict at times,” the official said.

Although the PKK is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, the administration has not shunned the PYD over the links.

Asked at a daily press briefing Friday whether the PYD’s affiliation with the PKK would deter the U.S. from meeting with the Syrian group, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said it would not.

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