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Oct 22, 2014 10:23 AM

Iraqi Kurds authorize sending fighters to Kobani

The Associated Press

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) Lawmakers in Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region voted Wednesday to authorize sending Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga to help defend the embattled town of Kobani in Syria, where fellow Kurds are facing an onslaught by militants of the Islamic State group.

Kurdish officials said an unspecified number of fighters would be sent through Turkey to support their ethnic brethren in a battle playing out just across the Turkish border. The fight has grabbed the world's attention and triggered sympathy for the outgunned Kurds.

Anwar Muslim, a Kobani-based senior Kurdish official, praised the decision, saying "all help is welcome." He said there seemed to be a solidifying international push to help Kobani combat the militants.

As details of the deployment were being worked out, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the United States made a mistake in airdropping weapons to Kurdish fighters in Kobani earlier this week because some of the weapons ended up in IS hands.

"It turns out that what was done was wrong," he said, according to Turkey's private Dogan news agency.

The Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that IS militants were able to seize one of the 28 bundles of weapons and medical supplies intended for Kurdish fighters. Col. Steve Warren said it appears the wind caused the parachute to go off course, and that the weapons in the bundle were not enough to give the enemy any type of advantage.

Activists said Tuesday that the Islamic militants seized a small part of the airdrop. A video uploaded by a media group loyal to the Islamic State group showed it included hand grenades, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The caches were airdropped early Monday to Kurds in embattled Kobani. Differences about how to defend Kobani have sparked tensions between Turkey and its NATO partners.

The vote by Kurdish lawmakers comes two days after Turkey said it would help Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross into Syria to support their brethren defending the town. Turkey in recent years has built friendly ties with the leadership of the largely autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region.

Still, it was unprecedented for Turkey to promise to give Kurds passage to fight in Syria.

Ankara views the main Syrian Kurdish military force fighting IS militants the People's Protection Units, or YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. That group has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO.

Peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hekmat in Irbil said Wednesday there is still a lot of uncertainty on the details of the deployment, including how many forces will be sent and when.

"We're sending the peshmerga, not to become YPG but to fight alongside the YPG," Hekmat said. "We will send the peshmerga to do their job for as long as they're needed and to come back after that."

Hekmat said Iraqi forces will also provide weapons, but he did not say what kind.

Turkey is under pressure to take greater action against the IS militants not only from the West but also from Kurds in Syria and inside Turkey who accuse Ankara of standing by while their people are slaughtered. Earlier this month across Turkey, widespread protests threatened to derail promising talks to end the PKK insurgency.

Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group, which has rampaged across Iraq and Syria, have been attacking Kobani for a month. The U.S. and its allies are assisting the Kurds by conducting airstrikes targeting IS infrastructure in and around the town. Earlier this week, the U.S. air dropped weapons and other assistance to the Kurds for the first time.

Also Wednesday, Syria's information minister claimed the Syrian air force destroyed two of three jets seized and reportedly test flown over Aleppo by the Islamic State group last week.

Omran al-Zoubi told Syrian TV late Tuesday that Syrian aircraft bombed the jets on the runway as they landed at Jarrah airbase.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier had reported that IS militants flew three MiG fighter jets over the Jarraj air base with the help of former Iraqi air force pilots who were now members of the militant group. The report could not be independently confirmed, and U.S. officials said they had no reports of the militants flying jets.

The group is known to have seized fighter jets from at least one air base it captured from the Syrian army in Raqqa province earlier this year. Militant websites had posted photos of IS fighters with the warplanes, but it was unclear if they were operational.


Butler reported from Istanbul. Associated Press writer Zeina Karam in Beirut, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed reporting.


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