ARBIL, Iraq - Dozens of Kurdish peshmerga fighters left a base in northern Iraq on Tuesday headed for the battleground Syrian town of Kobane, an AFP journalist reported.

The town on the Turkish border has become a crucial front in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group, which overran large parts of Iraq in June and also holds significant territory in Syria. The AFP journalist saw dozens of military trucks leaving the base northeast of Kurdish regional capital Arbil from which officers said fighters bound for Kobane would depart. Earlier, the fighters loaded machineguns and mortars into the trucks and packed bags for the trip.

“Forty vehicles carrying machineguns and weapons and artillery with 80 of the peshmerga forces will head to Dohuk (province) and then cross the border today,” a Kurdish officer told AFP.

A further 72 will fly to Turkey early on Wednesday, the officer said. Halgord Hekmat, the spokesman of the Kurdish ministry responsible for the peshmerga, has said the fighters are “support forces” and will be armed with automatic weapons, mortars and rocket launchers.

The deployment is open-ended, with peshmerga minister Mustafa Qader saying that: “They will remain there until they are no longer needed.” Last week, under heavy US pressure, Turkey unexpectedly announced it would allow the peshmerga fighters to cross its territory to join the fight for Kobane. The main Syrian Kurdish fighting force in the town, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), has close links with the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeast Turkey.

Ankara had previously resisted calls to allow in reinforcements. The deployment, which comes at a time when Kurdish forces are still engaged in heavy fighting against IS militants in Iraq, stretches the bounds of regional autonomy and has drawn flak from some federal lawmakers.

But the Iraqi premier and other senior federal officials have been publicly silent on the issue, indicating their at least tacit acceptance of the deployment.

Lawmaker Samira al-Mussawi, a member of the national parliament’s foreign relations committee, said it is “illegal and unconstitutional”.

And MP Alia Nsayif said in an email that the deployment violates several articles of Iraq’s constitution.

She cited articles naming the prime minister as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and outlining powers reserved for the central government, including formulating foreign and national security policy.

But a Kurdish member of parliament defended the deployment as justified.

“For us, it is a humanitarian matter - there are people besieged by barbaric forces and it is up to all communities and people to defend,” MP Shirko Mohammed said.

And MP Hakim al-Zamili, a senior leader of one of the country’s largest Shia militias, said the deployment is “natural” and “in the interest of the Iraqi people, because the Iraqi and Syrian arenas are one.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations issued a clarion call Tuesday for more funding to help countries such as Lebanon and Jordan host millions of Syrian refugees, warning it posed the world’s “most dramatic humanitarian crisis”.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told an international conference in Berlin that the impact of three million Syrians having fled the long and bloody conflict was “enormous” on its neighbours.

“Economics, public services, the social fabric of communities and the welfare of families are all affected, not to mention the security impact of the Syrian conflict in the whole region,” he told the gathering.

More than three million Syrians have fled their country since the uprising that began in March 2011, with most taking shelter in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

Germany has convened the one-day conference to focus not only on the refugees’ humanitarian needs but on the wider necessity to shore up the stability of host countries struggling to cope with the exodus.

Several foreign ministers and other representatives from around 40 countries and international bodies are attending the talks.

“The host countries need and deserve much stronger financial support to their budgets to allow them to address the structural gaps,” Guterres said, pointing to education, health care and adequate infrastructure.

He described the Syrian situation as “the most dramatic humanitarian crisis the world has faced in a very long time”, as ministers from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq outlined their struggles.

“Lebanon, as it has been recognised by all, is beyond its absorption capacities and urgently needs other countries to share its burden,” Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam said.

Lebanon last week said it would ask the UN to stop registering refugees who enter the country from war-torn Syria, formalising a decision to all but close its borders to them.

It already hosts more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees, an enormous strain for a country with a population of just four million.

The influx has tested overstretched infrastructure and created fresh tensions.

About 1.5 million Syrians, including refugees and economic migrants who arrived before the crisis, are currently living in Jordan, with 140,000 Syrian students swelling Jordan’s education system, its foreign minister Nasser Judeh said.

Jordanians have shared their housing, schools, hospitals and water “with their Syrian brothers and sisters”, he said.

But he also stressed the pressures on the health system and other services, and stiff competition for jobs.

“There is an urgent need for a more robust international response in support of host countries to pre-empt host country and host community fatigue,” he warned the conference.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who said the idea for the Berlin meeting came during his last visit to Lebanon, said it aimed to show a “vow of solidarity” for the refugees and host countries.

“Whoever has seen how much, in Lebanon for example, the public health system, the schools, the water supply and much else is utilised by the 1.5 million refugees, knows or can guess how much of an explosive force that really is for the social structures of a country like Lebanon,” Steinmeier told reporters ahead of the talks.

Host countries need investment in schools, hospitals, water supply and waste disposal systems and funding should be used more efficiently, he said. But he also warned that refugees needed hope.

“Hopelessness and despair make people vulnerable to radicalisation and manipulation,” he said, adding that half of the refugees were children and teenagers.