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Iraqi Kurdish fighters travel to Kobani to break Islamic State siege

Elena Becatoros Associated Press

SURUC, Turkey – Iraqi peshmerga troops were cheered Wednesday by fellow Kurds in southeastern Turkey as the fighters slowly made their way toward the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani to try to break a siege there by Islamic State militants.

But the ability of the small force to turn the tide of battle will depend on the effectiveness of their weapons and on continued U.S.-led airstrikes against the extremists.

“We are waiting for the peshmerga. We want to see what weapons they have,” said 30-year-old Nidal Attur, who arrived in Suruc two weeks ago from a small village near Kobani.

He and other euphoric Kurds waited for hours along streets in Suruc to catch a glimpse of the peshmerga troops they consider to be heroes. Most were seeing them for the first time.

After a rousing send-off from thousands of cheering supporters a day earlier in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Irbil, the peshmerga forces landed early Wednesday at the Sanliurfa airport in southeastern Turkey.

They left the airport in buses escorted by Turkish security forces and were expected to travel to Kobani later Wednesday. Others traveled to Turkey in trucks and vehicles loaded with cannons and heavy machine guns. They crossed into Turkey through the Habur border gate before daybreak Wednesday and were driving about 250 miles to Suruc.

The peshmerga troops – about 150 in all – were expected to join up along the road to the Mursitpinar border crossing, where they were to enter Kobani.

Separately, a small group of Syrian rebels entered Kobani from Turkey on Wednesday in a push to help Kurdish fighters there against the militants, activists and Kurdish officials said.

Kurdish fighters in Syria, known as the People’s Protection Units or YPG, have been struggling to defend Kobani against the Islamic State group since mid-September.

The Islamic State group’s offensive on Kobani and nearby Syrian villages has killed more than 800 people, activists say. The Sunni extremists captured dozens of Kurdish villages and control parts of Kobani. More than 200,000 people have fled into Turkey.

The coalition has carried out dozens of airstrikes against the militants in and around Kobani, helping stall their advance. The U.S. Central Command said eight airstrikes struck near Kobani on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The fighting in Kobani has deadlocked recently, with neither side getting the upper hand.

Elsewhere in Syria, at least 10 civilians were killed Wednesday when army helicopters dropped two barrel bombs that landed at a makeshift refugee camp in the northern province of Idlib, opposition activists said.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement that the U.S. is “horrified” by the report.

“While we cannot confirm details, we’ve consistently condemned the Assad regime’s callous disregard for human life, particularly its violence directed against civilians. The attack on the Abedin camp was nothing short of barbaric,” the statement said.

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