- - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

SURUC, Turkey — Kurdish militias defending the northern Syrian town of Kobani waited Tuesday for Turkey to allow promised reinforcements across the border, as Islamic State fighters posted video of militants opening crates of weapons presumably airdropped by U.S. forces.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad has taken advantage of the U.S.-led coalition’s air war against the Islamic State to attack rebels around the country and try to recapture territory lost during three years of civil war.

In Kobani, black smoke rose above the skyline amid heavy fighting between Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and well-armed Islamic extremists bent on taking the strategically located city.

The U.S. used C-130 transport aircraft to drop arms and ammunition to resupply the YPG fighters early Monday.

It said one of the airdrops landed in Islamic State territory and was destroyed in a subsequent airstrike, but video posted online Tuesday showed masked fighters opening boxes and crates containing a cache of weapons, including small arms, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades.

One fighter showing off a grenade says into the camera: “These are the bombs dropped by American forces to the Kurdish forces. Praise to God, now they are spoils for the mujahedeen.”


SEE ALSO: Iraqi pilots mistakenly drop supplies — instead of bombs — on Islamic State terrorists


If the video is authentic, the mishap would represent more of an embarrassment for the U.S.-led coalition than a strategic gain for the Islamic State, which already has a large cache of U.S. weapons seized from retreating Iraqi soldiers.

Kurdish fighters say they are outgunned and outnumbered by Islamic State militants.

On Monday, Turkey said it would allow the YPG to be resupplied through its territory despite the group’s ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey, the United States and NATO consider a terrorist organization. The PKK has waged a separatist insurgency in southern Turkey since the 1980s that has killed more than 40,000 people.

Turkey’s decision would reverse a long-standing blockade on Kobani that has angered ethic Kurds and Washington, which is leading airstrikes to prevent Islamic State militants from capturing the city in a siege that has lasted more than a month.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday that aid from Iraqi Kurd peshmerga fighters is still under discussion.

“The peshmerga have yet to cross from Turkey to Kobani, and this issue is still being discussed,” Mr. Cavusoglu told Turkish television. “Talks about their route are continuing. We won’t publicize any details until they are finalized.”

Turkey’s leadership has long maintained that both the PKK and Islamic State are terrorist groups, and has resisted cooperating with efforts to aid the PKK-linked militias in Kobani.

That has prompted fears that the fall of Kobani could derail Turkey’s peace process with its own Kurdish minority, which has been the basis of an 18-month cease-fire between Turkey and the PKK.

In the meantime, Turkey has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees fleeing the Islamic State in Syria.

Many Turkish Kurds say they are angry with their government for effectively shielding the Islamic State from Kurdish militias.

“Of course, Turkey’s refusal to allow people to cross shows they are supporting [the Islamic State],” said Ibrahim Bitkin, 32, standing at the border within sight of Kobani.

Deadly clashes in Turkey have erupted in predominantly Kurdish towns and cities among demonstrators, religious fundamentalists and security forces.

In response, Turkish leaders have drafted a one-page “road map to peace,” and a delegation of pro-Kurdish politicians traveled to the prison island of Imrali late Tuesday to deliver it to the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

Analysts say the response by the PKK’s leadership could make or break the peace process, but the fate of Kobani is a key factor in Turkey’s internal stability.

“We don’t know if all the concerns and requests of the Kurds are addressed in this road map,” said Cengiz Aktar, a political scientist at the Istanbul Policy Center at Sabanci University. “But Kobani is definitely another red line of the Kurdish movement in Turkey.”

Turkey’s pro-Kurdish politicians warn that the situation would deteriorate without significant concessions, including the granting of minority language rights in public schools and broad autonomy.

“The government keeps saying, ‘The peace process is our major policy,’ but they don’t take the actions that the process necessitates. The day has come; it is time,” Figen Yuksekdag, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) told her party group in Ankara. “The solution process cannot survive another dangerous halt.”

In Syria, the army has scaled back its air activity over Islamic State-controlled areas as U.S. and allied jets patrol the skies and attack militants in the northern part of the country, The Associated Press reported. Instead, Assad troops are focusing on the country’s two largest cities: Damascus and Aleppo.

“Whereas previously the Syrian regime had some interest or some level of obligation to take direct action against ISIS, to the extent that the American military is now doing this, the Syrians don’t have to do it,” said Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

Few people think the U.S. and Syrian militaries are actively cooperating or coordinating their operations, but there appears to be a tacit alliance ensuring at the very least that Syrian military operations would not come into conflict or friction with any American or allied aircraft.

In Washington, the Pentagon said Tuesday that it had spent $424 million so far in its military campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said an average of about $7.6 million a day has been spent on airstrikes and support missions such as surveillance flights.

Britain said Tuesday that it would deploy armed drones over Syria but stopped short of promising airstrikes without parliamentary approval.

“I can confirm that Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft are due to begin operations very shortly,” British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in a written statement to lawmakers. “Reapers are not authorized to use weapons in Syria; that would require further permission.”

The U.S.-led coalition continues to bombard targets in Iraq and Syria using warplanes and drones. U.S. Central Command has not disclosed what bases are used, though it has made it clear that Turkey continues to keep its airspace and bases closed to military strikes against Islamic State fighters.

Turkey has said it would allow strikes from its soil only if the mission is widened to topple Mr. Assad, something the White House has made clear is not on the table.

Jacob Resneck also reported from Istanbul. This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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