Peshmerga, FSA en-route to join the battle for Kobane
Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga forces, along with fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) deployed to the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobane where fierce fighting with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants continues, Agence France-Presse reported.
Turkish officials confirmed that fighters from the FSA had already arrived in Syria via Turkey, while the Peshmerga embarked on a 50-kilometer journey to the Syrian border early Wednesday and are reportedly still in Turkish territory.
The official, who chose to remain anonymous, said 150 FSA fighters crossed overnight in several buses.
While the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, confirmed the arrival of the FSA, it placed their number at only 50 fighters.
Ankara did not confirm the FSA deployment, raising questions on where the FSA fighters had come from originally.
Turkey, which has called for the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad as the sole viable solution to the Syrian conflict, is a strong supporter of the FSA.
An unknown number of Peshmerga fighters were flown into Turkey where they were escorted by four Turkish armored cars, a police vehicle, and an ambulance, the Associated Press reported.
The escorts to the convoy blocked the road to the border, barring many journalists from following the convoy.
Peshmerga soldiers carrying Kurdish flags were atop some of the vehicles as they headed from Erbil to the border crossing. The troops made the victory sign for the cameras.
In addition to thousands who waited for the fighters at the border, scores of people from the villages lining the road watched as the convoy passed.
At the border, crowds sang and chanted traditional Peshmerga songs and had to be pushed back by every vehicle that tried to make its way through the masses. Many people carried colorful Kurdish flags and portraits of the Iraqi Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani.
Last week, as a result of heavy U.S. pressure, Turkey unexpectedly announced it would allow some 150 fighters from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish province to cross its territory to join the fight to maintain Kobane.
Allowing the Peshmerga to cross to Kobane via Turkey was “the only way to help Kobane, since other countries don’t want to use ground troops,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the BBC.
The main Syrian Kurdish fighting force in the town, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has close links with the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey.
Ankara had previously resisted calls to allow in reinforcements.
The forces have been deployed as heaving fighting between ISIS militants and Kurdish fighters rages to maintain control of the border town, from which thousands of residents fled towards Turkey.