US continues airstrikes in Kobane ahead of peshmerga deployment

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Friday, October 31, 2014

US-led airstrikes hit Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) positions around the Syrian border town of Kobane on Friday in an apparent bid to pave the way for heavily-armed Kurdish peshmerga forces to enter from neighboring Turkey.

The predominantly Kurdish town, besieged for more than 40 days, has become the focus of a global war against the insurgents, who have captured expanses of Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic "caliphate" straddling the two.

Its fighters have slaughtered or driven away thousands who do not share their ultra-radical brand of Sunni Islam. They executed at least 220 Iraqis in retaliation against opposition to their takeover of territory west of Baghdad this week.

The siege of Kobane – known in Arabic as Ayn al-Arab – has turned into a test of the US-led coalition's ability to stop ISIS's advance, with weeks of airstrikes so far failing to break the insurgents' stranglehold.

Kobane’s defenders, outgunned by the militants, are hoping the arrival of peshmerga forces from Iraqi Kurdistan with badly-needed weapons including cannon and truck-mounted machine-guns will help them turn the tide.

An advance guard of 10 peshmerga briefly entered Kobane on Thursday to discuss a joint strategy with leaders of the YPG, the main Syrian Kurdish armed group defending the town.

Armored vehicles came and went from a former cotton processing warehouse near the Turkish border town of Suruc on Friday, where the wider contingent of around 150 peshmerga fighters were preparing for their deployment.

Tankers from the convoy emerged from the compound, guarded by Turkish security forces, to fill up at a local fuel station.

"For the past 15 days, (ISIS) has been attacking to try to take control of the border gate, including with car bombs. But we are resisting," said Enver Muslim, the top administrative official in the Kobane district.

"While the peshmerga convoy passes, US jets will be overhead and warplanes from the coalition ... will be flying over Kobane to ensure their security," he told Reuters by phone.

Around 200 fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – an umbrella term for dozens of armed groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – have also entered Kobane from Turkey to support the struggle against ISIS.

Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday preliminary information indicated that at least 21alleged ISIS members were killed in coalition airstrikes around Kobane, including a Danish jihadist.

A local journalist in the town said there had been several airstrikes overnight and a Reuters correspondent saw one early on Friday to the east of Kobane.

US Central Command said on Thursday there had been 10 strikes near Kobane since the previous day, reportedly hitting two small insurgent units and destroying seven fighting positions and five buildings.

The peshmerga were given a heroes' welcome as their convoy of jeeps and flatbed trucks crossed Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast this week, making their way towards Kobane from their base in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region.

It is unclear whether the small but heavily armed contingent will be enough to swing the battle, but the deployment is a potent display of unity between Kurdish groups that more often seek to undermine each other.

Syria responded to the arrival of the peshmerga by condemning Turkey for allowing foreign fighters and "terrorists" to enter Syria in a violation of its sovereignty. Its foreign ministry described the move as a "disgraceful act."

Turkey dismissed the comments.

A PYD leader accused Ankara last week of supporting ISIS, saying it had turned a blind eye when 120 ISIS militants crossed the border from Turkey earlier in October.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he believed that the coalition combating ISIS was focusing too much on the Syrian town of Kobane and should turn its attention to other areas

"Why Kobane and not otherwise towns like Idlib, Hama or Homs... while Iraqi territory is 40 percent controlled by the Islamic State?" Erdogan said, using an alternate term for ISIS at a news conference in Paris after talks with President Francois Hollande.

"There are only 2,000 fighters in Kobane it is difficult to understand this approach. Why has the coalition not acted in other zones?" Erdogan said.

Ankara has made clear it will not send troops into Syria and has been a reluctant member of the US-led coalition, insisting that any military strategy should also include the removal of Assad from power.

Ankara also says it fears Syria's Kurds will exploit the chaos by following their brethren in Iraq and seeking to carve out an independent state in northern Syria, emboldening Kurdish militants in Turkey and derailing a fragile peace process.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledged on Thursday that Assad may be benefiting from US attacks on ISIS fighters in his country, although he added that US policy still supported Assad's removal from power.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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