The Complex

U.S. Ramps Up Push to Save Key Syrian Town

This story has been updated.  U.S. aircraft delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State in the key Syrian-Turkish border town of Kobani on Sunday, further expanding Washington’s efforts to save the town from being overrun, according to a U.S. official. U.S. Central Command confirmed the airdrops conducted by three ...

Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images
Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images

This story has been updated. 

U.S. aircraft delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State in the key Syrian-Turkish border town of Kobani on Sunday, further expanding Washington’s efforts to save the town from being overrun, according to a U.S. official.

U.S. Central Command confirmed the airdrops conducted by three C-130 aircraft Sunday night.

"U.S. military forces conducted multiple airdrops tonight in the vicinity of Kobani, Syria to resupply Kurdish forces on the ground defending the city against ISIL," the military said in a statement.

The supplies were not provided by the U.S., but instead came from other Kurdish forces outside of Kobani, the official told FP. U.S. aircraft merely facilitated the airdrops. American warplanes have been bombing Islamic State targets in and around the city for weeks, but the airdrops escalate that effort and mean that the U.S. is now facilitating direct assistance to the Kurdish fighters defending the city.

"The aircraft delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies that were provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq and intended to enable continued resistance against ISIL’s attempts to overtake Kobani," the military statement said.

Of the 27 bundles of small arms, ammunition and medical supplies that were dropped, a "vast majority" were successfully delivered to Kurdish forces, a senior administration official told reporters Sunday night.  

President Barack Obama discussed the airdrops with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a phone call between the two leaders on Saturday night, the official said.

According to a readout of the call provided by the White House, Obama called Erdogan "to discuss Syria, particularly the situation in Kobani, and steps that could be taken to counter ISIL advances."

While Kobani could still fall, the new supplies should embolden the fighters on the ground and help them gain some ground, the official said.  

Senior administration officials, speaking to reporters Sunday night, would not rule out the possibility of sending more supplies to Kurdish forces inside Kobani in the future . 

The U.S. and partner aircraft have been bombing Islamic State targets in and around Kobani since Oct. 1. While the more that 135 strikes have helped the Syrian Kurds retake some territory in the town, they have been unable to halt the Islamic State’s siege, which began mid-September.

Late last week, a U.S. official told FP that Kobani would likely fall if the fighters on the ground were not resupplied.

Helping the Kurdish fighters has been a sore point with Erdogan, who views Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party, known as the PYD, as a similar threat as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has attacked Turkey for decades. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and the U.S.

Meanwhile, the State Department announced Thursday that it had conducted talks with the PYD for the first time last weekend. And according to reports, Syrian Kurds on the ground in Kobani are providing the U.S. information about which Islamic State targets to bomb.

On Friday, Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon that U.S. airstrikes in Kobani had increased, because the Islamic State "has made a decision to make Kobani [its]main effort."

Austin also warned that "it’s highly possible that Kobani may fall."

He praised the resolve of the Kurdish fighters, saying there were "some very determined fighters up there that have done a yeoman’s work in terms of standing their ground."

 

Kate Brannen is deputy managing editor at Just Security and a contributor to Foreign Policy, where she previously worked as a senior reporter. Twitter: @K8brannen

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