Syrian Kurds say they have retaken city
Following a deadly rampage said to target civilians, Islamic State is routed from Kobani.
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.
FROM Turkey, smoke is seen over Kobani, Syria, where Kurd forces were aided by U.S.-led strikes.