Kerry defends US reversal on supply of weapons to Kurds

Failure to support Kurds fighting Islamic State would have been ‘irresponsible’

US secretary of state John Kerry justified the first air drop of weapons to Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State (IS) militants in Kobani, Syria, saying it would have been "irresponsible" and "morally very difficult" for the US not to support them in a "crisis moment".

America's top diplomat made his remarks in Indonesia as Turkey, reversing an earlier position, agreed to let Kurdish peshmerga fighters from Iraq resupply Kurdish forces in Syria through Turkish territory.

Tens of thousands of Syrians, mostly Kurds, have fled intense fighting in Kobani for several weeks but until yesterday Turkey had refused to support Kurdish military groups in Syria because the Ankara government believes they are associated with Kurdish militant group PKK, which has carried out attacks inside Turkey for years.

Three US aircraft dropped 27 bundles of small arms, ammunition and medical supplies on Sunday night to Kurds defending Kobani from an IS assault on this key strategic town on the Syria-Turkey border.


Crucial test

The battle seen as a crucial test for the strategy of US president Barack Obama’s administration of fighting an air war against the radical militant group in the plan to “degrade and ultimately defeat” IS.

“With respect to the resupply of Turkey, let me just say very, very respectfully to our allies the Turks that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group, and particularly, obviously, the challenges they face with respect to the PKK,” said Mr Kerry in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

“But we have undertaken a coalition effort to degrade and destroy ISIL and ISIL is presenting itself in major numbers in this place called Kobani,” he said, using the administration’s name for the radical group.

Kurdish fighters in Kobani were “valiantly fighting” IS and the US “cannot take our eye off the prize,” he said.

He and President Obama had made it clear to the Turkish government in advance of the air drop that it is "not a shift of policy by the United States. "

Underlining the sensitivity of the action to Turkish-American relations, a senior Obama administration official said in a briefing call on Sunday that the president had spoken to Turkish president Recep Erdogan on Saturday to notify him in advance of the air drops.

Similar actions

The White House said there might be similar actions to support Kurdish fighters, saying that US would "do what's necessary".

The US has been engaged in heavy lobbying with the Turkish government to support the fight across its border in Kobani for several weeks. General John Allen, the US special envoy for the US-led coalition fighting IS, spent two days in Ankara earlier this month for talks with the US's Nato ally to discuss the battle in the town.

The state department announced that Gen Allen, along with deputy special enjoy Brett McGurk, will leave today for a 10-day trip to the UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman to discuss the strategy against IS.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent