President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the US’s airdrops of weapons for Syrian Kurds in the besieged town of Kobani, saying on Wednesday that ammunition had been seized by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and underlining that he was not sure why the town is so strategic for the US.
“They [the Americans] accepted that some of the weapons [meant for the Kurds] were seized by ISIL. Such an operation is inexplicable,” he told reporters ahead of a visit to Latvia. “Who you are supporting, where the support goes is obvious.”
Erdoğan was referring to an online video showing ISIL militants with a bundle of airdropped supplies that were dropped for the Kurds early on Monday.
The cache of weapons included hand grenades, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, according to the video. On Tuesday, ISIL loyalists on social media posted sarcastic thank you notes to the United States, including one image that said “Team USA.”
The Pentagon said on Tuesday the vast majority of the US supplies had reached the Kurdish fighters despite the cache seized by ISIL.
Erdoğan said he did not understand why Kobani was so strategic for the US, because the town’s entire civilian population has fled.
He also insisted that any assistance provided to the Syrian Kurdish group defending Kobani, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), amounted to support for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The US military announced that it had airdropped weapons and other supplies provided by the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Monday, just a day after the publication of remarks from Erdoğan that he opposed any arms transfer by the US to the PYD and that the latter is a “terrorist organization just like the PKK.”
On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, in what appeared to be a policy shift, announced that Turkey is allowing Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces to cross into Kobani to help its defense.
Erdoğan said he had proposed the passage of peshmerga forces to Kobani to US President Barack Obama when they spoke on the phone early on Sunday morning. “In our telephone conversation, I made that offer to Mr. Obama. I said any assistance to the PYD and the PKK is unacceptable for us and that cooperation with the [anti-regime] Free Syrian Army and the peshmerga can be accepted,” he said.
The president also disclosed that the US side was concerned that Kobani might fall to ISIL in two days if no help were delivered. The US did not initially agree to the peshmerga dispatchto Kobani, and its approval came only at the last minute, he added.
A US State Department official has said Kobani is important for the US, in a statement on Tuesday coming after a reported claim by Erdoğan on Tuesday that the Syrian town is strategic for Turkey, not the US.
Giving a daily press briefing, US Department of State Deputy Spokesperson, Marie Harf noted that she had not read Erdoğan’s comments yet but that when the US notified Turkey about a drop of US supplies near Kobani, it was because of the importance of that location, where ISIL forces have been concentrating their efforts.
“So we obviously believe it’s important or we wouldn’t be dropping weapons to the people fighting on the ground,” she said.
A US-led Western and Arab coalition is continuing to hit ISIL targets in Syria. Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s spokesman, said Kurdish fighters are now in control of the majority of Kobani.
“ISIL forces continue to threaten [Kobani]. We’re continuing to hit targets in and around there to help the Kurdish forces as they continue to fight against ISIL. So it’s still a very mixed, contested environment,” Kirby added.
Harf also praised Turkey’s announcement that it will facilitate the crossing of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces into Kobani, saying it is an important contribution to coalition efforts to support forces there.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu reiterated late on Tuesday that the peshmerga had not started to cross into Kobani yet. Speaking to reporters following a meeting with Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, Davutoğlu told reporters that the talks on the topic are continuing.
The US has been working to build a strong coalition against ISIL. Turkey, meanwhile, has been reluctant to contribute to this coalition and insists that the priority is the removal of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Turkey is also pushing for the establishment of a safe zone and a no-fly zone inside Syria to curb the refugee influx into Turkey.
In the meantime, the European Union on Monday urged Turkey to open its borders to allow humanitarian supplies to Kobani.
“The EU appreciates efforts by Turkey to shelter refugees from Kobani and calls on Turkey to open its border for any supply for the people of Kobani,” read a statement released after a meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday.
In support of the US-led coalition’s efforts to defeat ISIL, the UK has announced that it will deploy intelligence-gathering drones to Syria. “The deployment will see the Royal Air Force aircraft gathering intelligence as the UK ramps up efforts to protect our national interests from the terrorist threat emanating the country,” read a written statement from the British Ministry of Defense on Tuesday.
Turkey is hosting around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and the intense clashes in the border town of Kobani have prompted a new wave to arrive. Another host country for large numbers of Syrian refugees, Lebanon, said it is no longer accepting any Syrian refugees except those with immediate humanitarian needs, according to reports in the foreign media over the weekend.