In a move with potentially significant diplomatic and military implications, the US military airdropped weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies to Kurdish forces fighting the extremist group ISIS in the crucial Syrian border town of Kobani.
US Central Command said two US Air Force C-130 aircraft dropped a total of 27 bundles of weapons, ammo, and medical supplies in a mission that began around 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. US officials said they have already determined that at least the “vast majority” of those bundles were successfully delivered.
Senior Obama administration officials said Sunday night that the airdrops were intended to help enable the Kurdish forces, who were running low on supplies, continue their fight against ISIS. The arms were provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq.
ISIS, which is also known as ISIL or the Islamic State, has shifted significant resources toward Kobani in an attempt to take full control of the town on the Syria-Turkey border, US officials said. ISIS’ strategy presented an opportunity, along with the fact the Kurdish resistance has been “very impressive,” one senior administration said.
“ISIS decided Kobani was important to them. This provided us with an opportunity,” the official said.
In a statement, Central Command said the US military has conducted a total of 135 airstrikes in Kobani over the past few weeks. It also said the airstrikes have killed “hundreds” of ISIS fighters while slowing its advances into the city.
“We know we’ve killed hundreds. And that’s just around Kobani,” one US official said.
Still, US officials stressed the situation in Kobani was still “fragile” and that the town could still fall to ISIS. But the stepped-up airstrikes and the resupply of arms suggests a significant shift in importance placed on the town by the US, which less than a week ago was publicly bracing for its fall and diminishing its overall strategic importance.
“ISIL is going to suffer significant losses for its focus on Kobani,” one official said.
The re-supply will likely anger the Turkish government, which said Sunday it would not accept any arms transfers to Kurdish fighters. Political considerations have largely prevented Turkey from intervening in Kobani, as it is in an ongoing strife with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has links to the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Iraq.
US officials said the plan to airdrop arms and ammunition was conveyed at multiple levels, including during a phone call between President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday. One official said he would not characterise the Turkish government’s response.