Islamic State seizes large areas of Syrian town despite air strikes

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

With Washington ruling out a ground operation in Syria, Turkeysaid 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 air strikes in the area against a militant training camp and fighters.

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

Retired U.S. General John Allen, named by President Barack Obama to oversee the anti-Islamic State coalition, held “constructive and detailed talks” with Turkish leaders in Ankara on Thursday, the State Department said.

Ankara resents suggestions from Washington that 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,” a senior Ankara government source said, using a former acronym for the militant group.

The State Department said Allen and deputy envoy Brett McGurk stressed that the fight against Islamic State would be a “long-term campaign” but that “urgent steps were immediately required to counter the militants.

The statement added that the U.S. and Turkish officials discussed several measures “to advance the military line of effort” against Islamic State and that a joint military planning team would visit Ankara early next week.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Islamic State 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 Islamic State, which controls large amounts of territory in Syria and neighboring 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 km (miles) away. Islamic State hoisted its black flag in the town overnight and a stray projectile landed 3 km (2 miles) inside Turkey.

The town’s defenders say the United States is giving only token support with its air strikes, 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.

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