About 10 of an expected 160 Peshmerga fighters enter Kobani, sources say
Kobani has been under ISIS attack since September
The arrival of Peshmerga fighters is symbolic, but not a major development, analyst says
Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga fighters began arriving in the besieged northern Syrian city of Kobani from Turkey, two witnesses said Thursday, starting what analysts call a largely symbolic reinforcement of fellow Kurds defending the town from ISIS.
About 10 Peshmerga fighters entered Kobani from the Turkish border in two vehicles, an activist and a Syrian Kurd fighter told CNN by phone.
The 10 are among about 160 Peshmerga troops that are expected to arrive in Kobani after traveling from Iraq through Turkey, bringing heavy weapons, artillery and gear to help Syrian Kurds in a battle against ISIS for control of the border town.
ISIS, the Sunni Muslim extremist militant group, has been fighting to take Kobani for about six weeks, hoping to add it to the territory it already captured in parts of Syria and Iraq for what it calls its new independent Islamic nation.
Syria has been embroiled in a three-year civil war, with government troops battling ISIS and other rebels elsewhere, leaving Kobani’s ethnic Kurds to defend the city, with U.S. airstrikes – part of a larger U.S.-led coalition effort against ISIS in the region – intermittently taking out ISIS targets in the area.
The supplies and troops, though roughly an infantry company-sized contingent, would boost Kobani’s defenders somewhat, given that they’ve seen few reinforcements since ISIS’ siege of the city began in mid-September. The Peshmerga troops join about 200 Syrian rebels who, according to Syrian rebel commander Col. Abdul Jabar, entered Kobani at dawn Wednesday.
Peshmerga troops – Kurds who defend northern Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region – are no strangers to ISIS, having battled them often this year as the militant group tries to expand its Iraqi territory.
Tens of thousands of civilians fled Kobani and surrounding areas into Turkey to avoid the fighting.
What impact will the Peshmerga fighters have?
Though the Syrian Kurds will welcome the Peshmerga, the troop movement doesn’t necessarily signal a major shift in the fight, analysts say.
“In terms of a major war that’s of some significance to U.S. national security, the arrival of 150 militiamen to an area is probably not of tectonic significance,” Steve Biddle, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN Wednesday.
Most tacticians consider Kobani to be of little inherent strategic interest in the fight against ISIS, Washington Institute defense fellow Jeff White said Wednesday.
The city has attracted a lot of international media attention, in part because it lies just across the border from Turkey, giving journalists a clear vantage point to report on the battle there.
ISIS is also reinforcing its contingent in Kobani, White said, setting out the prospect of a protracted fight over the city.
But there is some military significance, analysts say.
The fight for Kobani continues to give U.S. and allied forces the opportunity to bloody ISIS there, and to keep its forces tied up, White said.
“As long as the city doesn’t fall, it works to the advantage of the U.S. strategy,” he said. “The ISIS guys who are fighting in the city aren’t available to fight somewhere else.”
The Turkish role
With ISIS controlling the Syrian land surrounding Kobani, the Peshmerga’s easiest path into the city was through Turkey. And Turkey’s decision to let the Peshmerga traverse Turkish territory represented a major policy shift.
The Syrian Kurdish fighters, part of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, have ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has fought a 30-year guerrilla war against the government of Turkey, where about 20% of the population is Kurdish.
Turkey, the European Union and United States consider the PKK a terrorist organization.
Earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Syrian Kurdish and ISIS militants were “terrorists.” The Turkish government also has bristled at the United States’ efforts to parachute weapons, ammunition and medicine to YPG fighters.
But while Turkey did nothing to intervene in Kobani, Kurds protested in Turkish streets. More than 30 people were killed in cities across the country this month as ethnic Kurds clashed with Islamist and nationalist groups, as well as Turkish police.
CNN’s Raja Razek reported from near Suruc, Turkey, and CNN’s Michael Pearson and Jason Hanna reported and wrote in Atlanta. CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh, Gul Tuysuz, Ivan Watson and Zeynep Bilginsoy contributed to this report.