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Oct 31, 1:47 PM EDT

Kurdish official blames Turkey for peshmerga delay


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SURUC, Turkey (AP) -- The 10 peshmerga fighters from Iraq who entered the embattled northern Syrian town of Kobani one day earlier returned to Turkey Friday to prepare for their forces' full deployment, and a senior Kurdish official blamed Ankara for the delay.

The official with Syria's powerful Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, claimed Turkish leaders had been hoping that militants from the Islamic State group would capture the town before the Iraqi fighters entered.

"There have been so many delays and the peshmerga are not to blame. The Turks are behind the delays," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. He added that attacks by IS on Kobani have increased meanwhile.

His comments illustrated the deep distrust between Syria's Kurds and Turkey. Relations between Turkey and Syria's Kurds have long been strained, in large part because Ankara believes the PYD is affiliated with the Kurdish PKK movement that has waged a long and bloody insurgency in southeast Turkey.

On Oct. 22, lawmakers in Iraq's largely autonomous Kurdish region authorized peshmerga forces to travel to neighboring Syria and help fellow Kurds. The peshmerga fighters arrived in Turkey on Tuesday and have been staying in a facility in the Turkish border town of Suruc.

Anwar Muslim, a Syrian Kurdish official in Kobani, said the vanguard force that entered the town Thursday discussed defensive positions and strategy against the Islamic State group with the town's Kurdish defenders. All 150 peshmerga fighters are supposed to depart from Turkey for Kobani later Friday, Muslim said.

Muslim told The Associated Press by telephone from Kobani that "zero hour hasn't been decided yet, but it will be today."

The hope is that the Iraqi Kurdish fighters will help reverse gains by Islamic State militants who have captured parts of the town as well as dozens of nearby villages.

The senior Kurdish official said "the peshmerga want to go in as soon as possible. This is very important for us regarding Kurdish unity. When the peshmerga and People's Protection Units are fighting together, this boosts the morale of the Kurdish people."

He said the peshmerga fighters are bringing with them heavy machineguns and most importantly anti-tank missiles. The official said Kurdish fighters in Kobani don't currently have the weapons to stop the tanks that the Islamic State group is using.

Islamic State fighters have been using heavy armored vehicles they had captured from Iraqi and Syrian troops when they conquered large parts of Iraq and Syria in June. With modern weapons in Kurdish hands, the balance of power could start tipping in their favor in Kobani.

The expected peshmerga deployment, accompanied by 50 members of the Free Syrian Army, was condemned by Syria's government as an act of Turkish aggression and a "blatant violation of Syrian sovereignty."

The official's comments came as the U.S. Central Command said American warplanes conducted four airstrikes near Kobani damaging four Islamic State fighting positions and one building occupied by the group.

Muslim and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Kurdish fighters in Kobani fought heavy battles with the Islamic State group that launched an offensive in the town six weeks ago.

"We have 10 martyrs in the past 24 hours," Muslim said, adding that corpses of Muslim militants are on their ground and they can't pick them up.

Islamic State militants launched the attack on Kobani in mid-September, capturing dozens of Kurdish villages in addition to parts of the border town. More than 200,000 people have fled to Turkey and more than 800 people have died, activists say.

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Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed to this report from Beirut.

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