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U.S. Welcomes Turkey's About-Face On Kobani As Fighting Resumes

Smoke and flames rise over the Syrian town of Kobani after an air strike by a U.S.-led coalition on October 20.
Smoke and flames rise over the Syrian town of Kobani after an air strike by a U.S.-led coalition on October 20.

The United States has praised Turkey's decision to permit the transit of Iraqi Kurdish fighters into Syria to help defend Kobani, as fighting continued in the besieged city.

Kobani's Kurdish defenders have been under assault by Islamic State (IS) fighters for more than one month.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced the policy shift on October 20 in Ankara but offered no details, saying talks on the issue were ongoing.

However, he added, "We have no wish at all to see Kobani fall."

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington welcomed the statements from the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Turkey's announcement came unexpectedly, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 19 ruled out arming the Kurdish defenders of Kobani and urged the United States to follow suit.

Erdogan said the dominant Syrian Kurdish party, the Democratic Union Party (YPG), is a "terrorist organization," just like the Turkish Kurdish rebel group it has been linked to, the Kurdistan Workers Party.

However, the United States military on October 19 airdropped supplies, including arms and ammunition, to the Kurdish fighters in Kobani.

The airdrops came shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama called Erdogan to discuss "strengthening cooperation" against IS in Syria.

General Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the Peshmerga Ministry of Iraq's Kurdistan region, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on October 20 that the ministry is "preparing to send fighters and heavy weapons to Kobani through Turkey."

But a Peshmerga spokesman said Syrian Kurds trained in northern Iraq would be sent in but not Iraqi Kurds.

A YPG spokesman said no Peshmerga had yet arrived in Kobani and declined to comment on the Turkish plan.

In Brussels, European Union foreign ministers, in a statement on October 20, urged "Turkey to open its border for any supply for the people of Kobani."

On the ground in Kobani, after a relative calm, fighting erupted again late on October 20, with small arms and mortar fire, as well as big explosions apparently caused by air strikes.

The U.S. Central Command said in an October 20 statement that U.S. forces carried out six air strikes against IS militants near Kobani on October 19 and 20.

But despite carrying out its first airdrops in Kobani and intensifying its air strikes, the U.S. military says its top priority remains Iraq, where IS swept through much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in June.

Central Command said U.S. forces carried out six air strikes against IS militants near the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Bayji.

The strikes were conducted in coordination with Iraqi forces, France, and the United Kingdom, it said.

France's Defense Ministry said in an October 20 statement that it had conducted air strikes the previous day against IS jihadists in the Tikrit region of Iraq, about 200 kilometers north of Baghdad.

And RFE/RL correspondents on the ground report that air strikes have been continuing north of Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul, killing 17 IS fighters, in addition to destroying a number of their vehicles. IS captured Mosul in June.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said in the city of Najaf on October 20 that there would be no foreign boots on the ground to help Iraqi forces recapture areas seized by IS militants.

The United States also continued diplomatic efforts to ramp up international support against IS.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Jakarta on October 20, called on Asian nations to step up their efforts to combat IS extremists.

Kerry said it is crucial to prevent Islamist recruitment in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on October 20 that any international coalition to combat IS must be coordinated through the UN Security Council.

With additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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