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Tags: Iraq | Syria | conflict | US

Kurds Battle for Heart of Kobani as UN Fears Massacre

Saturday, 11 October 2014 01:58 PM EDT

Kurdish fighters halted a thrust by Islamic State group jihadists towards the heart of the battleground Syrian town of Kobani Saturday, after the U.N. warned thousands of civilians risked massacre.

The pre-dawn attack came after the ISIS militants overran the Kurdish headquarters in the border town on Friday, sparking fears they would cut off the last escape route to neighboring Turkey.

But U.S. officials warned that while world attention is focused on Kobani, the jihadists have been piling pressure on government troops in neighboring Iraq, leaving the army in a "fragile" position in Anbar province between Baghdad and the Syrian border.

The renewed ISIS drive on central Kobani sparked 90 minutes of heavy fighting with the town's Kurdish defenders before the jihadists fell back, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

U.S.-led coalition warplanes also launched two air strikes against ISIS targets south and east of the town early Saturday, according to the Britain-based monitoring group, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.

It said a sandstorm later Saturday prevented more coalition raids, and reported fighting in southern Kobani and near the headquarters ISIS captured on Friday.

U.S.-led warplanes have intensified air strikes against ISIS, which has been attacking Kobani for three weeks, but the Pentagon has said that there are limits to what can be done without ground troops.

Small groups of Kurdish fighters were trying to harry the encircling jihadists with operations across the front line, Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura warned Friday that 12,000 or so civilians still in or near Kobani, including about 700 mainly elderly people in the town center, "will most likely be massacred" if the town falls.

Kobani was "literally surrounded" except for one narrow entry and exit point to the Turkish border, de Mistura said.

"We would like to appeal to the Turkish authorities in order to allow the flow of volunteers at least, and their equipment to be able to enter the city to contribute to a self-defense operation," he said.

 The Observatory said at least 554 people have been killed in and around Kobani since the ISIS advance on the town began on September 16 -- 298 ISIS militants, 236 Kurdish fighters and 20 civilians.

Twenty-one jihadists and eight Kurdish fighters were killed on Friday, it said.

Another 16 ISIS militants died in coalition air raids across the provinces of Aleppo -- which includes Kobani -- and Raqa, where ISIS has its main Syrian stronghold.

Turkey has tightened security of its porous Syrian border after the escalating fighting in Kobani sparked the exodus of 200,000 refugees over the frontier.

Watching the events unfold from across the border, Ahmed Abu-Ammar told AFP that his son was killed when ISIS attacked Kobani -- three years after he lost his wife in a regime air strike in Aleppo.

"My eight-year-old son was martyred, God bless him. When the shelling became heavier we fled to Turkey and we suffered a lot to reach this place."

Turkey has been deeply reluctant to allow weapons or Kurdish fighters to cross the border despite repeated nights of protests among its own large Kurdish minority that have left 31 people dead.

The situation is complicated by the close ties between the town's Kurdish defenders and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency for self-rule in southeastern Turkey that Ankara is determined not to embolden.

Washington has been frustrated over Ankara's reluctance to commit its well-equipped and well-trained forces to the coalition against IS, but reported "progress" after two days of talks in Ankara by the coalition's coordinator, retired US general John Allen.

Military chiefs from the 21 countries already committed to the US-led coalition are to meet in Washington next week to discuss strategy, Pentagon officials said.

U.S. defense officials insist the primary focus of the coalition's campaign remains Iraq, where there are capable local forces on the ground to work with, particularly Kurdish forces in the north.

But officials voiced concern about the "tenuous" position of Iraqi troops in Anbar province, where the few remaining government-controlled areas have come under repeated attack.

Some of Anbar province fell to ISIS at the start of the year and most of the rest was seized by the Sunni extremists in a lightning sweep through Iraq's Sunni Arab heartland in June.

"I think it's fragile there now," one senior U.S. defense official told AFP.

"They are being resupplied and they're holding their own, but it's tough and challenging."


© AFP 2023

Kurdish fighters halted a thrust by Islamic State group jihadists towards the heart of the battleground Syrian town of Kobani Saturday, after the UN warned thousands of civilians risked massacre.The pre-dawn attack came after the ISIS militants overran the Kurdish...
Iraq, Syria, conflict, US
Saturday, 11 October 2014 01:58 PM
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