Peshmerga forces wait to deploy to Kobane.
ERBIL/SYRIAN-TURKISH BORDER—The Turkish military is holding Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers seven kilometers from the Turkish border to Syria, delaying their mission in the besieged city of Kobane, Peshmerga officials told Rudaw.
A Peshmerga commander says his troops are in the town of Pirsus, guarded by Turkish military to prevent enthusiastic locals from joining the Iraqi Kurdish unit. The Iraqi Kurdish troops will provide artillery support to the Syrian Kurdish militia defending the city.
He declined to provide further details about the location and timing of their passage to Kobane, but confirmed that the Islamic State had intensified attacks in expectation of their arrival and the US-led coalition planned targeted airstrikes to facilitate a safe crossing.
They will be the first foreign soldiers to be dispatched to the Syrian Kurdish border town, which has been under siege by ISIS for more than 40 days. Local Kurdish fighters have held out with backing from US-led airstrikes.
This comes a day after the Free Syrian Army (FSA) said 200 its fighters had entered Kobane at the request of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian-Kurdish force that has been defending the city against an ISIS takeover.
Approximately 150 Peshmerga arrived in Turkey early Wednesday morning in two groups, one flying to Sanliurfa airport in the country’s south-east, the other crossing by land with a trucks filled with heavy weapons.
Soldiers were bussed in to a camp near to the border, where the two contingents gathered and stayed overnight.
The trip was not been without complications. A Peshmerga medic told Rudaw on Wednesday evening that the Turkish authorities refused to let Peshmerga cross with their guns or uniforms, and complained about the miserable conditions of a camp they were made to stay in.
“There are no facilities in the place we are staying,” Issettin Temo, part of the small medical team accompanying the soldiers said in a telephone call from Turkey. “We do not have a bar of soap nor a washbasin to wash our hands. We feel like prisoners. We have no connection with the outside world. However we can do nothing but wait for our guns to reach us. Our journey is being delayed because of this.”
He believed that the Turkish escort resented the local support the Peshmerga enjoyed. The troops arrived great fanfare in Turkey. Thousands of people rushed from surrounding areas to greet the land convoy and the soldiers in Sanliurfa.
“People came out onto the streets to greet the Peshmerga,” he added. “They are mistreating and insulting us because of this.”
Turkey’s intelligence agency MIT was ordered to coordinate the crossing of the Peshmerga into Syria, according to the Hurriyet daily.
The newspaper reported the Turkish army saying it was unwilling to undertake the task, and would only be involved during the Kurdish soldiers’ crossing of the military zone at the border.
The reason why Peshmerga did not immediately cross into Kobane has not been confirmed by officials.
Turkish newspaper Milliyet reported that YPG forces had originally refused entry to Free Syrian Army troops on Wednesday. According to the paper, YPG distrusted the fighters and claimed were linked to ISIS troops.
The Turkish military intervened, citing a previous agreement with YPG leadership to allow the FSA passage, and threatened they would be sent in with the Peshmerga troops. At this point, Milliyet reports, the FSA was allowed to cross, but Peshmerga held near the border overnight.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) claimed it had proposed the idea of a Peshmerga mission to Kobane three weeks ago in a series of secret meetings with Turkey, the United States, and Syrian Kurds.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reaffirmed U.S. enthusiasm for the plan, saying: "we welcome the support they would provide to Kobane's defense." U.S. General US General Lloyd Austin met with Kurdish leadership do discuss the Kobane strategy and other security issues on Tuesday.
But Turkey did not cooperate with the United States on an airdrop of medical and military supplies to YPG forces in Kobane last week, publicly denouncing the mission.
More than 800 people died in the first 40 days of fighting in Kobane, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated this week.
It said it had documented the deaths of 21 Kurdish civilians, 481 ISIS militants and 302 fighters from the YPG.
The monitoring group said the actual death toll could be twice as high, because both sides were remaining silent on casualties, and many areas that had suffered heavy clashes and bombardment were difficult to access.
Additional reporting by Jonathon Burch in Istanbul