Turkey said Tuesday Kurdish peshmerga fighters based in Iraq have yet to cross into Syria from Turkish territory, a day after announcing it was assisting their transit to join the battle for the town of Kobane.
“The peshmerga have yet to cross from Turkey to Kobane and this issue is still being discussed,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told NTV television, without giving further details.
Cavusoglu announced Monday that Turkey was helping the Kurdish peshmerga cross into Syria from Turkey to reinforce Kurdish fighters battling to stop the Syrian border town of Kobane falling to jihadists.
It was seen as a major switch in policy by Turkey, which until now has refused to interfere in the over month-long battle for Kobane between Syrian Kurdish fighters and Islamic State (IS) jihadists.
Cavusoglu said that the details of the reinforcement were still being worked out between the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — the Syrian Kurdish group which controlled Kobane until the IS advance — and the peshmerga.
“We are waiting for PYD and peshmerga to discuss the issue and reach an agreement,” said Cavusoglu. “We will take the necessary steps once the conditions are met.”
He added that no decision has been taken yet on how many peshmerga will be allowed to cross into Syria or by which route.
“It might be either ground or air,” he said.
Ankara is studying three routes for the peshmerga to come to Turkey and then on to Kobane, sources have said.
They could travel by air to the Turkish city of Sanliurfa or by land through the Habur border crossing in Iraq, or the Ceylanpinar crossing in eastern Syria.
Syrian Kurdish fighters trained by the peshmerga in Iraq could be sent in a first batch, followed by the Iraqi peshmerga themselves.
– ‘Against supporting PYD’ –
Turkey has until now refused to allow Kurdish fighters to cross its border to join the battle against IS militants for Kobane, fearing the creation of a powerful Kurdish fighting force straddling the Syria-Turkey border.
Turkish security forces have been waging a 30-year conflict with the fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose battle for self-rule in the southeast has left 40,000 people dead.
However, Turkey in recent years has built up strong relations with the Kurdish authorities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq who control the peshmerga forces.
Cavusoglu also said while Turkey was prepared to support the peshmerga it was against assisting the PYD, which Ankara regards as PKK’s Syrian branch.
Reaffirming Turkey’s desire to see the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Cavusoglu said the anti-regime Free Syrian Army (FSA) should be be helped to take part in the defence of Kobane.
“In order to save Kobane, the FSA should be supported and reinforced. We are against plans to massively support the PYD,” he said.
Turkey’s animosity towards the PYD puts it at odds with the United States, which favours supporting the group to fight against IS militants.
“We… made clear to the Turks that we believe it’s incredibly important to support groups like the PYD,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, adding that Washington did not believe the PYD was an equivalent of the PKK.