Kurdish fighters regain territories as ISIS militants retreat from Kobani
The advance of Islamic State fighters on Kobani stalled on Thursday, according to a monitoring group, after US -led coalition warplanes launched their heaviest bombardment yet on the militants.
Last week, the Turkish and U.S. officials said Islamic State was on the verge of taking Kobani from its heavily outgunned Kurdish defenders, after seizing strategic points deep inside the town.
A dramatic ramping up of coalition air strikes reached a new crescendo in recent days, with Islamic State targets around Kobani being hit nearly 40 times in 48 hours. The barrage has halted the militants' advance, with Kurdish sources saying that Kurdish YPG fighters managed to retake some territory.
The four-week assault has increasingly been seen as a key test of U.S. President Barack Obama's air strike strategy, and the Kurdish leaders have repeatedly said the beleaguered town cannot survive without arms and ammunition reaching the defenders, something neighboring Turkey has so far refused to allow.
Islamic State has been keen to take the town to consolidate its position in northern Syria after seizing large amounts of territory in that country and in Iraq. A defeat in Kobani would be a major setback for the Islamists and a boost for Obama.
Increased air strikes over the besieged Kurdish city of Kobani have allowed the American-led coalition to take out large numbers of Islamic State fighters, the top American commander for the Middle East said on Friday.
Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, the Head of the United States Central Command, acknowledged that the Sunni militant group might still manage to take Kobani, but indicated that even if it did, it would be a costly victory that could eventually help the United States and its allies in other parts of Syria as well as Iraq.
“What’s going on in the Kobani area is that, in my assessment, the enemy has made a decision to make Kobani his main effort,” General Austin said during a rare appearance before reporters at the Pentagon. He said that fighters from the group, also known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, had poured into Kobani.
“Now, my goal is to defeat and ultimately destroy ISIL,” he said. “And if it continues to present us with major targets, as it has done in the Kobani area, then clearly we’ll wipe out those targets.”
The United States carried out 14 air strikes around Kobani on Wednesday and Thursday, the Pentagon said. The attacks blasted buildings used by the Is- lamic State, command posts, fighting positions, sniper positions, a staging location and one heavy machine gun.
Heavy smoke rises following an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition aircraft in Kobani, Syria, on Wednesday.