Coalition intensifies airstrikes on ISIL targets in Kobani

The battle for the town near the Turkish border has emerged as a major test for the US-led air campaign aimed at rolling back and eventually destroying the extremist group.

Turkish soldiers holding their positions on a hilltop in the outskirts of Suruc, Turkey, at the Turkey-Syria border, where smoke rising from an airstrike targeting ISIL in Kobani in Syria can be seen. Kobani has been under assault by extremists of the ISIL group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo
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MURSITPINAR, Turkey // The US-led coalition ramped up its aerial bombardment of ISIL positions in the Syrian border town of Kobani on Thursday as the extremist group battled street by street with Kurdish forces and reportedly rushed in reinforcements from surrounding areas.

The battle for the town near the Turkish border has emerged as a major test for the US-led air campaign aimed at rolling back and eventually destroying the extremist group, and has strained ties with Nato ally Turkey, which is at odds with Washington over its long-term strategy in Syria.

The US Central Command said five airstrikes south of Kobani since Wednesday had destroyed an ISIL support building and two vehicles, and damaged a training camp. The strikes also struck two groups of ISIL fighters, it said in a statement.

“Indications are that Kurdish militia there continue to control most of the city and are holding out against ISIL,” it said.

But despite the airstrikes overnight and into the morning, the ISIL fighters managed to capture a police station in the east of the town, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The station was later struck by coalition jets.

The Observatory, which relies on activists across Syria, said Kurdish forces had surrounded the militants in the area of the station and that heavy fighting was underway.

The Observatory said the militants had seized more than third of Kobani, but Kurdish officials disputed that, saying their forces had recaptured several parts of the town.

“I can confirm that they don’t control a third of the city. There is only a small part of Kobani under the control of Daesh,” said local Kurdish official Idriss Nassan, using an Arabic acronym to refer to ISIL.

Both Mr Nassan and the Observatory said more than 20 airstrikes have been conducted in the area since Wednesday afternoon.

Two columns of smoke rose over Kobani as warplanes buzzed overhead. Two strong explosions — apparently from an air raid — echoed from the edge of the town, a cluster of low-slung concrete buildings nestled in rolling hills.

The crackle of gunfire and explosions could be heard on the Turkish side, where spectators watched the fighting unfold from a stretch of farmland.

The fighting over Kobani has brought Syria’s civil war yet again to Turkey’s doorstep, and allies have pressed Ankara to take a more robust role in the US-led coalition fighting ISIL. Kurds have held massive demonstrations across Turkey in which they accuse Ankara — which has tanks just across the frontier — of doing nothing to save the town.

ISIL militants launched their offensive on Kobani in mid-September, capturing several nearby Kurdish villages and steadily tightening their noose around the town. The fighting has forced at least 200,000 residents from the area to flee across the frontier into Turkey.

The Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman, said that more than 500 people have been killed in and around Kobani since the fighting began in September. He said ISIL was rushing in reinforcements from surrounding areas, indicating the extremists also view Kobani as a test of will.

* Associated Press