Syr­ian Kurds say they have re­taken city

Fol­low­ing a deadly rampage said to tar­get civil­ians, Is­lamic State is routed from Kobani.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Nabih Bu­los and Laura King laura.king@latimes.com Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Bu­los re­ported from Li­mas­sol, Cyprus, and Times staff writer King from Cairo.

CAIRO — Kur­dish fight­ers in the Syr­ian bor­der city of Kobani, backed by U.S.led airstrikes, said Satur­day that they had ex­pelled Is­lamic State mil­i­tants who went on a killing rampage months af­ter hav­ing been routed by Kur­dish forces.

The Sunni ex­trem­ists blasted their way into Kobani, just south of the Turk­ish bor­der, on Thurs­day with a se­ries of car bombs, seiz­ing a school and us­ing it as a spring­board for ap­par­ent re­venge at­tacks. More than 200 peo­ple were killed, many of them civil­ians in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to ac­tivists. The toll could more than dou­ble once bod­ies in homes and struc­tures are re­cov­ered, ac­tivists said af­ter the town had been se­cured.

Kobani as­sumed out­size sig­nif­i­cance last year when Is­lamic State be­sieged it for months be­fore be­ing driven back in Jan­uary. The city be­came a sym­bol of Kur­dish de­fend­ers’ de­ter­mi­na­tion to fight off the mil­i­tants, and of the Kurds’ role as the most re­li­able ground fight­ers al­lied with the U.S.-led coali­tion con­fronting Is­lamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Ac­tivist Mustafa Ebdi, speak­ing by phone from Kobani, said at least 250 peo­ple were killed dur­ing the three­day in­cur­sion, a count that could grow to 500. On Satur­day, the main Kur­dish mili­tia, known as the YPG, blew up the school where Is­lamic State fight­ers had been holed up and routed them from five other ar­eas, he said.

The YPG, also known as the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units, is a mili­tia charged with pro­tect­ing the Kur­dish mi­nor­ity amid Syria’s multi- sided civil war. But its pres­ence along the Turk­ish fron­tier has in­fu­ri­ated Tur­key. The Ankara gov­ern­ment con­sid­ers the force a close cousin of the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Party, or PKK, which has bat­tled the Turk­ish state for decades. Tur­key con­sid­ers the PKK a ter­ror­ist group.

Last Septem­ber, the U.S.-led mil­i­tary coali­tion launched with­er­ing airstrikes to push back Is­lamic State in wide swaths of Iraq and Syria. U.S. planes, in co­or­di­na­tion with YPG fight­ers on the ground, kept up an in­tense bar­rage as the group pressed its at­tack on Kobani.

In Jan­uary, with Kobani re­duced to lit­tle more than rub­ble, Is­lamic State with­drew. Its re­cent raid on the city may have been meant to sur­prise and de­mor­al­ize Kur­dish forces, who were buoyed by vic­tory this month in another bor­der town, Tal Abyad.

That bat­tle helped Kurds unite ter­ri­tory un­der their con­trol and cut off an im­por­tant Is­lamic State sup­ply route be­tween the Turk­ish bor­der and the mil­i­tant group’s de facto cap­i­tal, Raqqah, about 50 miles to the south.

Is­lamic State fight­ers are con­tin­u­ing an of­fen­sive against gov­ern­ment-held ar­eas in the north­east­ern Syr­ian city of Hasaka, which is jointly held by troops loyal to Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad and Kur­dish forces. The Reuters news agency re­ported that the gov­ern­ment had urged res­i­dents to take up arms to de­fend the city.

The U.S.-led coali­tion said Satur­day that it had staged 14 airstrikes against Is­lamic State po­si­tions in Syria since Tues­day, in­clud­ing four near Kobani, five near Raqqah and two near Hasaka.

Yasin Akgul As­so­ci­ated Press

FROM Tur­key, smoke is seen over Kobani, Syria, where Kurd forces were aided by U.S.-led strikes.

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