WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military said it had air-dropped arms to Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State militants near Kobani on Sunday in what appeared to be the Pentagon’s first public acknowledgment it has provided lethal aid to the rebels.
The U.S. Central Command said it had delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to the Syrian rebels who for weeks have sought to stave off an onslaught by Islamic State fighters that have overrun swathes of Syria and Iraq this year.
The “resupply” of rebel fighters is the latest escalation in the U.S. 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 neighboring Syria, in part to prevent it from enjoying safe haven on Syrian territory.
In a brief statement, the U.S. Central Command said U.S. 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 statement said 135 U.S. 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. It mentioned no new air strikes.
(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham, Arshad Mohammed and Warren Strobel; Editing by Michael Perry)