US-led warplanes have bombarded the Islamic State group with new air strikes as heavily armed Iraqi Kurdish fighters were on Sunday readying to reinforce the besieged Syrian border town of Kobane. Kurdish forces, backed by US air power, have been holding out for weeks against an IS offensive around Kobane, which has become a high-profile symbol of efforts to stop the advance of the jihadists.
The Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq unveiled plans on Friday for up to 200 well-trained peshmerga to join Syrian Kurdish forces defending Kobane in the coming week. Kurdish news agency Rudaw said the first contingent could head to the town as early today, but there was no immediate confirmation of that timetable. Since Turkey conceded to US pressure to allow vetted reinforcements into Kobane to prevent IS winning the prominent battle for the town, the jihadists have made repeated attempts to cut the border before any help can arrive.
Before dawn yesterday, IS fighters hit Kurdish forces defending the Syrian side of the border crossing with mortar and heavy machinegun fire, an AFP correspondent on the Turkish side reported. The heavy mortar fire around the Mursitpinar crossing prompted the Turkish army to order the evacuation of nearby hilltops from where the world’s press has been watching the battle for the town.
The US-led military coalition fighting IS launched 22 air strikes in Iraq and one in Syria on Friday and Saturday, the Pentagon said. Eleven of the bombings in the heavy barrage targeted IS units, buildings, positions and vehicles near Iraq’s strategic Mosul Dam. Kurdish forces backed by US air strikes yesterday retook the town of Zumar northwest of Mosul from IS after weeks of fighting, a senior officer said.
IS still holds significant areas in northern Iraq and elsewhere in the country, as well as swathes of neighbouring Syria. The Kurdish news agency said an initial peshmerga contingent of 150 was ready to leave for Kobane and would be headed by Sihad Barzani, brother of Iraqi Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani and head of its artillery brigade.
It cited peshmerga officials as saying that an additional 1,000 Iraqi Kurdish fighters would follow. Rudaw quoted a senior peshmerga officer as saying that the Iraqi Kurdish forces would deploy with heavy weapons, but that undertakings had been given to both Ankara and Washington that they would not be handed over to Syrian Kurdish forces. “Our enemies in Kobane are using heavy weapons and we should have heavy weapons too,” he said.
The main Syrian Kurdish fighting force in Kobane has close links with the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers Party, which has fought a three-decade insurgency in Turkey.