ISIS seizes large areas of Kobani despite airstrikes

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighters seized more than a third of the Syrian border town of Kobani, a monitoring group said on Thursday, as U.S.-led airstrikes failed to halt their advance and Turkish forces looked on without intervening.

Militants gain control of one-third of Syrian border town, monitoring group says

ISIS takes third of Kobani

8 years ago
Duration 2:24
Gains made in spite of heavy bombardment by U.S. airstrikes and the efforts of Kurdish defenders

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighters seized more than a third of the Syrian border town of Kobani, a monitoring group said on Thursday, as U.S.-led airstrikes failed to halt their advance and Turkish forces looked on without intervening.

With Washington ruling out a ground operation in Syria, Turkey said it was unrealistic to expect it to mount a cross-border operation alone to relieve the mainly Kurdish town.

The U.S. military said Kurdish forces appeared to be holding out in the town, which lies within sight of Turkish territory, following new airstrikes in the area against a militant training camp and fighters.

Washington said U.S. forces launched nine airstrikes on Thursday against ISIS militants north and south of Kobani, striking some fighting units and destroying four buildings held by the group. U.S. forces also conducted two airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS had pushed forward on Thursday.

"ISIS control more than a third of Kobani - all eastern areas, a small part of the northeast and an area in the southeast," said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Observatory, which monitors the Syrian civil war.

The commander of Kobani's heavily outgunned Kurdish defenders confirmed that the militants had made major gains, after a three-week battle that has also caused the worst street clashes in years between Turkish police and Kurdish protesters.

In Turkey's eastern province of Bingol, two police officers were killed and a police chief was seriously wounded in an attack, CNN Turk television reported, while clashes elsewhere killed four protesters.

Militia chief Esmat al-Sheikh put the area controlled by ISIS, which controls large amounts of territory in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, at about a quarter of the town. "The clashes are ongoing, street battles," he said by telephone from the town.

Explosions rocked Kobani throughout the day, with black smoke visible from the Turkish border a few kilometres away. ISIS hoisted its black flag in the town overnight and a stray projectile landed three kilometres inside Turkey.

The town's defenders say the United States is giving only token support with its airstrikes, while Turkish tanks sent to the frontier look on but do nothing to defend the town, where the United Nations says only a few hundred remain. Over 180,000 people from the city and surrounding area have fled into Turkey.

Turkey ground operation is 'not realistic'

Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, played down the chances of its forces going to the aid of Kobani.

"It is not realistic to expect Turkey to conduct a ground operation on its own," he told a news conference with visiting NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg. He added: "We are holding talks ... Once there is a common decision, Turkey will not hold back from playing its part."

Ankara resents suggestions from Washington it is not pulling its weight, and wants broader joint action that also targets the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "We strongly reject allegations of Turkish responsibility for the ISIS advance," said a senior Ankara government source.

We strongly reject allegations of Turkish responsibility for the ISIS advance.- A senior Ankara government source

"Our allies, especially the U.S. administration, dragged their feet for a very long time before deciding to take action against the catastrophic events happening in Syria," he added.

Turkey has long advocated action against Assad during the civil war, which grew out of a popular uprising in 2011. But the United States called off airstrikes on Damascus government forces at the last minute last year when Assad agreed to give up his chemical weapons. It has also managed so far to fly sorties across Syria with tacit consent from Assad.

Kerry said ISIS's advance on Kobani was a tragedy but would not deter the U.S. coalition from its long-term strategy in the region.

"Kobani is a tragedy because it represents the evil of ISIS, but it is not the definition either of the strategy or the full measure of what is happening with response to ISIS," he told reporters in Boston.

Turkish soldiers stand with a tank and an armoured vehicle as they hold their positions on a hilltop on the Turkey-Syria border, overlooking smoke rising from a strike in Kobani, Syria on Thursday. (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)
"We are only a few weeks into building the coalition," Kerry said. "The primary goal of this effort has been to provide the space for Iraq to be able to get its government in place and to begin to push back and to begin to be able to deprive [ISIS militants] of their command and control, their supply centres and their training. That is taking place."

Retired U.S. General John Allen, asked by U.S. President Barack Obama to oversee the creation and work of the anti-ISIS coalition, was in Ankara on Thursday for two days of talks with Turkey's leaders.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wants the U.S.-led alliance to enforce a "no-fly zone" to prevent Assad's air force flying over Syrian territory near the Turkish border, and to create a safe area for around 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return.

Stoltenberg said neither had been discussed by NATO.