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US drops weapons for Kurdish fighters

The US said it had delivered weapons to the Kurds who are trying to stave off ISIS fighters.

People watch from a hill during sunset after an US-led coalition airstrike on Kobani, Syria, as seen from the Turkish side of the border. Picture: EPA.

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT - The US military said it had air-dropped arms to Syrian Kurds battling Islamic State near the Syrian town of Kobani, the first such delivery in more than a month of fighting and a move that could upset Turkey.

The US Central Command said it had delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to the Kurds who are trying to stave off an onslaught by Islamic State fighters who have overrun swathes of Syria and Iraq this year.

The main Syrian Kurdish group defending Kobani from the better armed Islamic State militants said on Monday the town had received "a large quantity" of ammunition and weapons.

Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, is besieged by Islamic State fighters to the east, west and south and bordered to the north by Turkey. The Turkish government has turned down Syrian Kurdish requests for it to open a land corridor so Kobani could be resupplied from other Kurdish areas of northern Syria.

Turkey views the Syrian Kurds with deep suspicion because of their ties to the PKK, a group that waged a decades-long militant campaign for Kurdish rights in Turkey.

The "resupply" of Kurdish fighters marks an escalation in the US effort to help local forces beat back the radical Sunni militant group in Syria after years of trying to avoid getting dragged into the more than three-year Syrian civil war.

The United States began carrying out air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq in August and about a month later started bombing the militant group in neighbouring Syria, in part to prevent it from enjoying safe haven on Syrian territory.

In a brief statement, the US Central Command said US Air Force C-130 aircraft "delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies that were provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq and intended to enable continued resistance against ISIL's attempts to overtake Kobani," using an acronym to refer to Islamic State.

The Central Command said 135 US air strikes near Kobani in recent days, combined with continued resistance against Islamic State on the ground, had slowed the group's advances into the town and killed hundreds of its fighters.

"However, the security situation in Kobani remains fragile as ISIL continues to threaten the city and Kurdish forces continue to resist," the statement said.

The Central Command mentioned no new air strikes around Kobani, whose strategic location has blocked the radical Sunni Muslim militants from consolidating their gains across northern Syria.

A spokesman for Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State militants in Kobani later confirmed on his Twitter feed that a "large quantity of ammunition and weapons" had reached the town.

US officials, speaking in a conference call, described the weapons delivered as "small arms" but gave no details.

The United States gave Turkey advance notice of its plans to deliver arms to the Syrian Kurds, a group Turkey views with deep distrust because of its links to Turkish Kurds who have fought a an insurgency in which 40,000 people were killed.

"President Obama spoke to Erdogan yesterday and was able to notify him of our intent to do this and the importance that we put on it," one senior US official told reporters.

The Turkish presidency said Obama and Erdogan had discussed Syria, including measures that could be taken to stop Islamic State's advances, and Kobani.

In a statement published on Sunday, it also said Turkish assistance to over 1.5 million Syrians, including around 180,000 from Kobani, was noted in the conversation.

Obama and Erdogan agreed to continue working closely to strengthen the joint fight against Islamic State, it added.

Three C-130 transport aircraft dropped 27 bundles of weapons and medical supplies to the Syrian Kurds, said a second US official, adding the planes left Syrian air space unharmed and that the majority of the bundles had reached their targets.

In comments published by Turkish media on Monday, Erdogan equated the main Syrian Kurdish group, the PYD, with the PKK.

"It is also a terrorist organisation. It will be very wrong for America with whom we are allied and who we are together with in NATO to expect us to say 'yes' (to supporting the PYD) after openly announcing such support for a terrorist organisation," Erdogan said.