Islamic State fighters advance further into Kobani

Intense clashes break out as militants enter two districts of border town with heavy weapons and tanks

 

Islamic State fighters pushed into two districts of the strategically important Syrian border town of Kobani in fierce fighting late today, Kurdish officials among the town’s defenders said.

“Tonight (Islamic State) has entered two districts with heavy weapons, including tanks. Civilians may have died because there are very intense clashes,” Asya Abdullah, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Syrian Kurdish group defending the area, told Reuters from the town.

Another PYD official said that despite continuing US-led coalition airstrikes this evening Islamic State fighters had seized some buildings on the eastern edges of the town.

The militants were being held in the suburbs by fierce resistance from Kurdish forces defending the town, which has been under assault for more than three weeks, the official added.

The US reported earlier today that six airstrikes had helped stop Islamic State militants from taking over the Syrian town, but played down the significance of the battle in the long-term US strategy to defeat the Islamist group.

The airstrikes destroyed an armored personnel carrier, armed vehicles and artillery belonging to the militant group, which had threatened to overrun the town on the Turkish border, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said it was essential to take a long-term view of the conflict. The group may take Kobani or other towns, he said. While airstrikes were effective, military power alone would not be enough.

“People need to understand we need a little strategic patience here. This group is not going to go away tomorrow, and Kobani may fall. We can’t predict whether it will or it won’t,” he said in an interview with CNN.

“There will be other towns that they will threaten, and there will be other towns that they will take. It is going to take a little bit of time.”

The United States has launched airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq since August 8th and in Syria since September 23rd, sometimes with partners in an international coalition that president Barack Obama has sought to build against the group.

The airstrikes on Kobani were part of nine overall strikes in Syria conducted over the last two days with the United Arab Emirates, using bomber, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft, CENTCOM said. It said all the aircraft left the area safely.

Attack on Kobani

The strikes near Kobani stalled the militant group, which had appeared set to seize the town after a three-week assault that sent tens of thousands of Kurdish residents fleeing over the Turkish border.

US-led airstrikes in the area redoubled after the Islamic State hoisted its black flag on the eastern edge of Kobani on Monday.

Two other strikes near Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital in Syria, hit a training camp for the militants and the group’s fighters there, according to CENTCOM. Another strike near Deir al-Zor destroyed a tank, it said.

The United States, Britain and the Netherlands also conducted five strikes on targets in Iraq yesterday and today using fighters and drones.

Mr Kirby said strikes in Syria were “a little more strategic in nature” than those in Iraq. “The campaign inside Syria is really designed to get at this group’s ability to sustain, to recruit, to train, to equip, to finance itself,” he said.

In Iraq, the airstrikes have focused on specific fighting units, aimed at halting advances by the militants or aiding Kurdish or Iraqi government forces trying to retake territory on the ground.

Kobani, on the Turkish border, “is not necessarily a strategically significant border town for ISIL because that border is porous already”, Mr Kirby said, referring to the group by one of its acronyms.

Mr Obama has ruled out the use of US combat troops in the fight against Islamic State. The military strategy combines an air campaign with ground operations by local forces.

Kurds, who live in many of the areas of northern Syria and Iraq that have been taken over by Islamic State fighters, as well as parts of southeast Turkey, have been pressuring the Turkish government to intervene to defend Kobani.

The United States is also trying to get Turkey, its Nato partner, to engage more generally in the fight against Islamic State.

Reuters