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Kurdish Fighters Deny Claims of Syrian Rebel Assistance in Kobane

Turkey's president says Free Syrian Army soldiers are on their way to help fight the Islamic State in the besieged Syrian town, but Kurds say that's not true.
October 25, 2014, 5:30pm
Photo by Vadim Ghirda/AP

Kurdish soldiers have denied a claim by Turkey's president that they are cooperating with the Free Syrian Army and allowing hundreds of rebel fighters to flood into Kobane to help repel Islamic State militants surrounding the embattled Syrian town.

Turkey's President Tayyip Ergodan told reporters in Estonia Friday that some 1,300 fighters from the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella name for loosely united groups battling to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, are making their way toward Kobane under the patronage of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Reuters reported.

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Erdogan's comments indicating that FSA fighters were already navigating a route through Turkey to Kobane, were backed by FSA commander Al-Oqaidi Saturday, who said the soldiers "will come in two or three days."

"The fighters will come from the northern Syrian countryside. These fighters are not coming from the fighting fronts against the Assad regime. These are reserve fighters," Al-Oqaidi told Reuters from the Turkish border town of Suruc, which faces Kobane.

Over the weekend Saleh Moslem, co-chair of the PYD rejected these claims, saying, "We have already established a connection with FSA but no such agreement has been reached yet."

The majority Kurdish town of Kobane, also known as Ayn al Arab, has been besieged by Islamic State fighters since mid-September, prompting US-led coalition airstrikes on the town's outskirts to prevent its fall, which would provide militants with a strategic corridor from the Syrian cities of Raqqa and Aleppo to the Turkish border.

A divorced father-of-two from Ohio is fighting the Islamic State in Syria. Read more here.

A US airstrike destroyed a vehicle carrying explosives near Kobane on October 21, according to the United States Central Command.

Despite the Kobane's proximity to Turkey, Ergodan's reluctance to intervene in the battle has frustrated both Western allies and Kurds fighting in the northern Syrian town, along with those who have fled as fighting has worsened and casualties have mounted.

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Kurds have been among the most effective ground forces countering the Islamic State since the group began making bloodied land grabs across Syria and Iraq this summer.

On the other hand, poorly equipped FSA rebel groups, who have little central organization or command, have struggled against Assad and Islamist groups in Syria.

Meet the Kurdish suicide bomber planning to attack the Islamic State in Kobane. Read more here.

Part of Erdogan's decision not to intervene in Kobane is a stated reluctance to side with Syrian Kurds, who seek an independent state on land spanning across parts of Syria, Turkey and Iraq, and who also have ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a separatist group labeled by Turkey and many Western countries as a terror organization.

After mounting pressure to join the coalition battle, Erdogan announced Wednesday that Turkey would allow the passage of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from Iraq through its territory into Kobane. The first contingent of Peshmerga could arrive in the town as early as Sunday, according to AFP.

Moslem told Reuters that Kurdish fighters had no political objections to FSA, but said their efforts would be better spent opening a second front elsewhere along the Syrian border.

"If they really would like to help, then their forces should open another front, such as from Tel Abyad or Jarablus," Moslem said, referencing two Syrian border towns captured by the Islamic State.

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The conflicting reports about potential FSA reserve fighters comes a day after the US expressed confidence Kobane was out of immediate danger and less at risk of falling to militants, after coalition forces conducted a series of airstrikes and small arms drops to Kurdish fighters Thursday. Officials, however, warned the threat still exists.

On Saturday, AFP reported that the Islamic State had launched heavy gunfire and mortar attacks to try and cut off the border route into Kobane that Peshmerga fighters are expected to use to enter the town in coming days.

Turkey's army has ordered residents and journalists to evacuate the hilltops surrounding the Mursitpinar crossing since heavy shelling began.

Video: Islamic State claims to have captured US weapons airdrop near Kobane. Read more here.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields