Peshmerga set to reinforce Syria`s Kobane

Iraq`s Kurds unveiled plans Friday to send fighters to help defend the Syrian border town of Kobane, amid uncertainty over a separate deployment of Syrian rebels announced by Turkey.

AFP| Last Updated: Oct 25, 2014, 01:55 AM IST

Mursitpinar: Iraq`s Kurds unveiled plans Friday to send fighters to help defend the Syrian border town of Kobane, amid uncertainty over a separate deployment of Syrian rebels announced by Turkey.

US-led air strikes have helped Kobane`s defenders, but commanders have complained that their forces are exhausted and need help after holding out against a relentless assault from the Islamic State (IS) group for more than five weeks.

But in contrast to a pessimistic assessment made at the weekend, a US military official voiced confidence Friday that the strategic town`s fall could be averted.

An official in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Arbil said peshmerga fighters will head for Kobane next week.

Halgord Hekmat, the spokesman for the ministry responsible for the peshmerga, said the lightly armed reinforcements will "not exceed 200 fighters". 

He declined to say what route they would take, but they will likely pass through Turkey, which has said it would allow them transit.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had earlier said the Syrian Kurds had "accepted 1,300 people from the (mainly Arab) Free Syrian Army and they are holding talks to determine the transit route."

But one of the commanders of the Kobane defences, Saleh Muslim, said no such deal had yet been reached.

FSA "reinforcements want to come, but they will not do so before a deal is reached," he told CNN-Turk.

Earlier, he had accused Ankara of trying to create confusion with its announcement.

And other Syrian Kurds reacted coolly to Erdogan`s claim, with one saying it would be better if the rebels opened fronts against IS in other parts of the country.

"Any force that enters our areas without our permission would be considered an enemy force," said Bulat Jan, a spokesman for the Kurdish Popular Defence Committees (YPG).

He stopped short of saying whether the Kurds would turn away the rebels.

Turkey has tightly controlled the flow of fighters and weapons to Kobane because of its defenders` links to the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.The American military, meanwhile, said US and allied aircraft pounded the IS group Thursday and Friday with 12 air strikes in Iraq and six near Kobane.

On the ground, Kurdish forces retook a strategic hill overlooking Kobane after coalition air strikes put the jihadists to flight the previous evening.

Around 20 of them raised their yellow, red and green flag over Tall Shair hill, an AFP correspondent on the Turkish side of the border reported.

An official at US Central Command, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "I think the Kurdish defenders... are going to be able to hold."

That was a sharp change from last Sunday, when US officials spoke of a "crisis" situation as Washington made its first arms drops to the town`s defenders.

US-led aircraft have flown nearly 6,600 sorties in the air war against IS in Iraq and Syria, and dropped more than 1,700 bombs, the American military said.

The strikes have helped avert Kobane`s fall but not stopped IS making new gains in parts of Iraq, where a US official acknowledged it could be months before government forces were ready to mount a major fightback.

The jihadists have captured more ground west of Baghdad in recent days, further reducing the government`s shaky hold on Sunni-dominated Anbar province.Iraqi security forces are currently able to stage small-scale attacks against IS, but need time to plan and train for a larger operation, even with the aid of US-led air strikes, the US official said.

"It`s well within their capability to do that (counter-attack), on the order of months, not years," the Central Command official said.

But "it`s not imminent."

The French military said rhe US-led coalition had dropped around 70 bombs on an arsenal and jihadist training centre on Thursday night.

France`s Rafale fighter jets took part in the operation, which destroyed buildings in which IS militants "produced their traps, their bombs, their weapons to attack Iraqi forces," Chief of the Defence Staff Pierre de Villiers said.

"Some 70 bombs were dropped, we fired 12 laser-guided bombs and we hit our target."

French President Francois Hollande said his country would "speed up" its operations in Iraq.

The jihadists must be "struck hard", he added.

Meanwhile, the United States is seeking more information on reports that IS fighters used chlorine gas against Iraqi police officers last month, Secretary of State John Kerry said.

The Washington Post reported that 11 Iraqi police officers had been rushed to a hospital last month suffering from dizziness, vomiting and shortage of breath and diagnosed as having been hit by poison gas.

Iraqi forces said two other crude chlorine gas attacks have occurred since the summer, but the Post said the details were unclear.