Kurdish forces fight to defend besieged Kobani
MURSITPINAR, Turkey (AP) — Warplanes believed to have been sent by the U.S.-led coalition on Tuesday struck positions held by Islamic State militants near a Syrian border town that beleaguered Kurdish forces have been struggling to defend.
The airstrikes began late Monday and came as Kurdish forces pushed Islamic State militants out of the eastern part of Kobani, where the jihadists had raised their black flag over buildings hours earlier, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. On Tuesday morning journalists on the Turkish side of the border heard the sound of warplanes before two large plumes of smoke billowed just west of Kobani.
The U.S.-led coalition has launched several airstrikes over the past two weeks near Kobani in a bid to help Kurdish forces defend the town, but the sorties appear to have done little to slow the Islamic State group, which captured several nearby villages in a rapid advance that began in mid-September.
The assault has forced some 160,000 Syrians to flee and put a strain on Kurdish forces, who have struggled to hold off the extremists. Hundreds more civilians fled Kobani on Monday as the jihadists advanced, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria.
On Tuesday morning, occasional gunfire could be heard in Kobani, also known by the Arabic name Ayn Arab. A flag of the Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, was seen flying over a hill in central Kobani.
On Monday, jihadi fighters raised two of their black flags on the outskirts of Kobani and punctured the Kurdish front lines, advancing into the town itself.
But the Observatory said the Kurds forced the jihadists to withdraw from the eastern part of the town in heavy clashes after midnight. It said five loud explosions were heard in the town as warplanes soared overhead. The Observatory said the jihadists were meanwhile able to capture several buildings on the southern edge of Kobani as well as a hospital under construction on the western side.
The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, also reported coalition airstrikes on the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. The United States and five Arab allies launched an aerial campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria on Sept. 23 with the aim of rolling back and ultimately crushing the extremist group. The U.S. has been bombing Islamic State targets in neighboring Iraq since August. The Islamic State group has conquered vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, declaring a self-styled caliphate governed by a harsh version of Shariah law. The militants have massacred captured Syrian and Iraqi troops, terrorized minorities in both countries and beheaded two American journalists and two British aid workers.