Iraqi Peshmerga fighters arrived in Turkey early on Wednesday ahead of their expected deployment to the embattled Syrian city of Kobani to help fellow Kurdish fighters from the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in their battle against Islamic State militants.
A contingent of 150 fighters flew into Turkey, arriving in the city of Sanliurfa, in the southeastern part of the country. Another contingent carrying weapons and artillery crossed into Turkey by land before heading to Syria.
Tight security measures were witnessed as Turkish security forces in armoured jeeps and police cars escorted the fighters leaving the airport.
In Irbil, thousands of Kurdish supporters gathered to show support for the Peshmerga fighters, carrying flags and cheering for them as they headed to the airport to fly to Turkey.
People wave to Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on their way to the Syrian town of Kobani, in Dohuk province (photo: Reuters)
“We’ve advocated and been discussing the importance of allowing the Peshmerga across the border and the facilitation of that,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced at a daily briefing in Washington on Tuesday.
“This is one component. It’s certainly one that we felt would be impactful and be important to have a partner on the ground to work with.”
Psaki’s announcement comes after weeks of US-led air strikes which continue to hit areas that are believed to be Islamic State strongholds in Syria in Iraq.
Turkey, which has been facing international pressure to take military action to save the border town of Kobani, has not allowed Kurdish fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to cross into Syria to fight alongside the PYD.
The PKK has fought against the Turkish government in a decades-long insurgency. Turkey sees that the Syrian Kurds in Kobani are linked to the PKK.
Kurds in Turkey are enraged by the government’s stance on Kobani and have announced that they suspect that Turkey would rather see the Islamic State gain more territory than for the Kurds to consolidate power.
Kobani has been under siege by Islamic State militants for weeks. Kurdish PYD fighters are fighting Islamic State as the US-led coalition continues to bomb Islamic State targets.