Iraqi peshmerga fighters arrived in southeastern Turkey early on Wednesday ahead of their planned deployment to the Syrian town of Kobani to help fellow Kurds repel an ISIS advance which has defied U.S.-led air strikes.
A Turkish Airlines plane touched down in the southeastern city of Sanliurfa at around 1:15 a.m. local time (2315 GMT) amid tight security and turkey police and army escort, Reuters report.
“They will be in our town today,” Adham Basho, a member of the Syrian Kurdish National Council from Kobani, said of the peshmerga, confirming that a group of between 90 and 100 fighters had arrived in Sanliurfa overnight.
Peshmerga forces left Turkey’s Sanliurfa international airport on Wednesday morning en route to the Syrian city of Kobani, where they will assist Syrian Kurds in their battle against the ISIS terrorist group.
A convoy of Iraqi Kurdish fighters and weaponry drove through the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Cizre. Crowds waving flags cheered them on as they drove toward the Syrian border.
Kurds in Turkey celebrate as a Peshmerga fighters convoy crosses through the Habur border crossing along the Turkish-Iraqi border with heavy weapons on October 29, 2014.
The convoy are expected to travel to Kobani through the Mursitpinar border crossing.Weeks of U.S.-led air strikes on the insurgents’ positions around Kobani and the deaths of hundreds of their fighters have failed to break the siege on the town.
The ISIS has threatened to massacre Kobani’s defenders in an assault which has sent almost 200,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing to Turkey, and triggered a call to arms from Kurds across the region.
The Iraqi Kurdish region’s parliament voted last week to deploy some peshmerga to Syria and, under pressure from Western allies, Turkey agreed to let peshmerga forces from Iraq traverse its territory to reach Kobani.
Saleh Moslem, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said late on Tuesday that about 150 peshmerga were expected to reach the area of Kobani overnight.
A separate group of peshmerga fighters is thought to be travelling to the Turkish border region by land. A Kurdish television channel showed footage of what it said was a convoy of peshmerga vehicles loaded with weapons en route to the area.
Kurdistan’s Minister of Peshmerga, Mustafa Sayyid Qader, told local media on Tuesday that no limits had been set to how long the forces would remain in Kobani. The Kurdistan Regional Government has said the fighters would not engage in direct combat in Kobani but rather provide artillery support.
Turkish officials have rebuffed international criticism over their reluctance to do more to help Kobani’s beleaguered Kurdish defenders, whom they accuse of being linked to the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
That stance has enraged Turkey’s own Kurdish minority – about a fifth of the population and half of all Kurds across the region.Kurds suspect Ankara would rather ISIS terrorists extend their territorial gains than allow Kurdish insurgents to consolidate local power.
Police shot into the air and fired teargas to disperse hundreds of Kurdish supporters gathered at the Habur border gate overnight to welcome the arrival of the peshmerga after they began throwing stones into a police compound.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Tuesday that air strikes alone would not be enough to push back the insurgents and that only the peshmerga and “moderate Syrian rebel” forces could oust ISIS from Kobani.
Battle for Kobani continues
The Syrian town of Kobani was hit by large explosions on what appeared to be airstrikes from a US-led coalition. The explosions came after intense fighting in the town as the ISIS group and Syrian Kurdish fighters battled for control of the strategic border town.