ISTANBUL: Turkey said Monday it was assisting Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga to cross its border and join the battle against jihadists for the Syrian town of Kobani, in a major shift by Ankara which until now had blocked Kurdish fighters.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that Turkey had no desire so see Kobani fall to the Islamic State (IS) jihadists who have been battling Syrian Kurdish fighters for over a month for control of the town.
The influx of the well-trained peshmerga fighters into Kobani could be a major boost for the Kurds, who are now being helped by U.S.-led air strikes and air drops.
“We are assisting peshmerga forces to cross into Kobani,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara in televised comments, without giving further details on the assistance given .
“We have no wish at all to see Kobani fall” to the jihadists, he added.
The Kurdish Rudaw news agency reported earlier that Turkey had approved a request from Massoud Barzani, the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, to allow peshmerga forces to pass through Turkish territory.
The switch came after the American military dropped weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to the Syrian Kurdish fighters who have been battling jihadists for Kobani for over a month.
Cavusoglu did not comment directly on the air drops, saying only that Turkey was now “evaluating” the latest move by the United States.
But he also did not give any indication that Turkey was angered by the air drops, as many commentators had expected.
“We have been in full cooperation with the coalition. We want to be rid of all the threats in the region,” the minister said.
‘The PYD must change’
Turkey has until now refused to allow Kurdish fighters to cross its border to join the battle against Islamic State (IS) militants for Kobani, fearing the creation of a powerful Kurdish fighting force straddling the border.
Turkish security forces have been waging a 30-year conflict with the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose battle for self-rule in the southeast has left 40,000 dead.
However, Turkey in recent years has built up strong relations with the Kurdish authorities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq who control the peshmerga forces.
It appears that despite the agreement over the peshmerga, Turkey will still block any PKK fighters from entering Syria.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had at the weekend rejected calls for Turkey to arm the main Kurdish party in Syria, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), saying “just as the PKK… it’s a terrorist organization.”
Cavusoglu reiterated that Turkey would not give support to the PYD, saying that “like IS, the PYD wants to control a certain region of Syria” and therefore posed a threat to Syria’s future.
“The PYD and other groups affiliated with it need to change their policies in Syria and give up these ambitions,” he said.
Turkey has long made no secret of its animosity towards the PYD for seeking to create a Kurdish region in northern Syria and refusing to show sufficient hostility to President Bashar al-Assad.
But Idris Nassen, an official from the Kobani region, said Turkey was wrong to harbor such suspicions about the PYD.
“The PYD is working for the Kurdish areas and the country of Syria as a whole,” he said, adding that the party was part of a national opposition coalition.
Turkey has come under increasing pressure over the last month to step up its support for the international coalition fighting the jihadists.
But Ankara has so far refused to use its own troops or even let U.S. forces launch their bombing raids on IS from the Incirlik airbase in the nearby Adana province.
Turkish television, citing foreign ministry sources, said that Turkish airspace had not been used for the U.S. air drops.
Erdoğan wants the United States to commit to implementing a security zone inside Syria and create a strategy for bringing down Assad before Turkey plays a full role in the coalition.