At least one of the pallets of weapons the United States dropped Sunday to defenders of the Kurdish town of Kobani may have fallen into the hands of Islamic State forces, Defense Department officials conceded Tuesday.
If confirmed, the incident would be an embarrassing episode in the United States’ campaign against the Islamic State, whose onslaught across Iraq and Syria since June 10 has been aided by millions of dollars in U.S. weapons that the Islamist group captured as Iraqi soldiers fled before them.
U.S. officials on Monday acknowledged that U.S. aircraft had returned to Kobani to target a pallet of weapons and ammunition that had fallen into an area controlled by the Islamic State. In a statement, Central Command said the strike on what it called a “stray resupply bundle” had “prevented these supplies from falling into enemy hands.”
But a video posted Tuesday on the Internet claimed to show Islamic State fighters pulling hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and other arms from a crate, suggesting that either the second bombing mission had failed or that a second weapons crate had missed its intended target and had fallen into Islamic State hands.
Pentagon officials said Tuesday that they were investigating what had taken place. “They certainly are the kinds of munitions dropped,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said of the weapons pictured in the video.
Three U.S. C-130 aircraft on Sunday delivered 28 pallets of weapons and medical equipment to Kobani in an effort to resupply fighters from the Kurdish militia group known as the YPG, whose initials stand for People’s Protection Units. The fighters have been locked in combat with the Islamic State for weeks and had managed to push the Islamists back, with help from heavy U.S. bombing. But the YPG was also running out of ammunition, putting the gains in jeopardy. The U.S. made the airdrops after Turkey had refused to allow the YPG forces to be resupplied by land.
The two-minute video posted on YouTube shows the pallet with the parachute still attached. The video then cuts to images of several crates from within the pallet lined up along a fence. A man opens one crate filled with grenades, another with rocket-propelled grenades.
“These are the bombs that the American forces dropped for the Kurdish parties,” the fighter said as he surveyed the equipment. “They are spoils of war for the mujahedeen.”
Pentagon officials said they were trying to determine if the video had been staged. They said, however, that they did not know how much time had elapsed between the initial airdrop and the subsequent bombing run to destroy the errant pallet. They also said they could not say whether the pallet might have been looted before the U.S. aircraft returned or if a second pallet of supplies might have gone astray.
Kirby reminded reporters that the “vast majority” of weapons, which had been provided by Kurdish officials in Iraq, had reached the Kobani defenders.
The Obama administration has made Kobani the nexus of its fight against the Islamic State, saying a surge of Islamic State fighters to the city makes it a strategic target for U.S. airstrikes. U.S. planes struck four Islamic State targets at Kobani on Tuesday, Central Command said, bringing to at least 145 the number of attacks on the city, including the one to destroy the pallet. That’s far more attacks than on any other single area in Iraq or Syria since the U.S. bombing campaign began Aug. 8.
The confusion over the pallet came as the Pentagon also could not offer any clarity on what kind of metrics Americans were using to measure whether the U.S. campaign to eliminate the Islamic State threat is succeeding.
“In a struggle like this, I don’t know that you can expect a tipping point,” Kirby said.
Since Aug. 8, the United States has spent $424 million combating the Islamic State, Kirby said.
He said that despite gains by the town’s defenders, the situation remains “tenuous.”