Kurdish Fighters Enter Kobani To Help Battle ISIS Extremists
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We begin this hour with developments in the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. For the last six weeks attention has largely focused on the battle for a small Syrian border town called Kobani. The U.S. has struck ISIS there from the air and Syrian Kurds have fought on the ground. Now more factions are joining the battle. Today a small group of Iraqi Kurdish fighters, the Peshmerga, entered Kobani via Turkey. And all this comes as mass graves are unearthed in western Iraq, apparently victims of ISIS.
NPR's Peter Kenyon has been following developments from Istanbul and he joins us now and Peter, help us understand the constellation of fighters here. Iraqi Kurds have crossed through Turkey to get into Syria to fight ISIS so what makes this is a significant development?
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, mainly the Syrian Kurds who've been defending the town hope that these Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters are bringing more than the light weapons they have now. The early reports suggest that may be true. Kurdish media are saying an advance group of Peshmerga went across today to assess the situation. As these Iraqi Kurds crossed Turkey, they were cheered by the largely Kurdish population in that part of Turkey, but the government in Ankara remains strongly opposed to giving any heavy weapons to Kurdish forces in Syria, Turkey or anywhere else. And the Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish forces, who are now expected to fight side-by-side, do not have a history of cooperation, but the immediate question of course is the survival of Kobani. Can this infusion of fighters and weapons make a difference? The U.S. military is still doing its part, another 10 airstrikes in or near Kobani since yesterday. That's a pretty high concentration of airpower devoted to a relatively small town.
CORNISH: And meanwhile the opposition of Free Syrian Army is also a part of this battle for Kobani, but there are reports that some of their commanders aren't happy with all the attention and the resources that the small town is getting. What can you tell us, what's going on there?
KENYON: Well, that's right. A commander named Nizar al-Khateeb came from Kobani to Istanbul and he told reporters there's about 400 FSA Arab fighters joining the 1,500 Kurdish fighters in Kobani and he was careful to say Kobani deserves to be defended, but he also says the heavy attention being paid to this small town is misguided. He says the situation in Aleppo, for instance, is much more critical. Their Syrian regime forces are about the surround the city and not much is being done to help the defenders.
This echoes comments I heard when I was down in southeastern Turkey a couple weeks ago. This may reflect differing priorities, as well. The international coalition is intently focused on ISIS, while the FSA says the Syrian regime is to go as well.
CORNISH: Finally Peter, I want to get back to Iraq for a moment and we mentioned the mass graves that were found in western Iraq believed to be Sunni men who were fighting ISIS. What more do we know about that?
KENYON: Well, the details are still coming in but at least scores over the past two days of corpses have been pulled from the ground near this western city of Hit. The anti-ISIS coalition had been hoping that these tribesmen would be part of an effort to rise up against ISIS as they did against then al-Qaida forces during the American-led occupation. Clearly ISIS is fighting strongly in Iraq still, despite the coalition's airstrikes and the claims by both the Iraqi and Kurdish forces that they've been turning the tide lately.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thank you.
KENYON: You're welcome, Audie.
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