Islamic State extends grip on Kobane amid further US airstrikes

Turkey says it's unrealistic for it to launch unilateral ground attacks against IS. The US, which is leading an air campaign in Syria, is trying to check the advance of militants against Kurdish forces. 

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
Smoke rises following an airstrike by the US-led coalition aircraft on Kobane, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, as seen from Suruc, Turkey, Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. Kobane, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters.

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US-led warplanes have carried out further airstrikes in Kobane, the Syrian Kurdish town on Turkey's border. Yet Islamic State appears to have expanded its grip on the town, highlighting its resilience and the limitations of airstrikes against IS. 

The latest strikes took out five IS armed vehicles and a supply warehouse, according to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group. However, the militants were able to capture a police station in eastern Kobane. IS now controls about one-third of Kobane, reports the BBC.

Kobane is a strategic goal for IS: Victory would allow the group to expand its clandestine supply routes into Turkey, a NATO ally that is a reluctant partner in the US-led campaign to contain IS in Iraq and Syria. 

IS militants have become savvier in preventing themselves from becoming easy targets for airstrikes. Reports from Iraq, where the militant group is also operating, show that IS has ditched large convoys of four-wheel drive vehicles in exchange for normal cars, so as to better blend in with civilians.

"We have been striking when we can. They don't fly flags and move around in large convoys the way they did. They don't establish headquarters that are visible or identifiable,” US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby also said Wednesday that US airstrikes "are not going to save" Kobane.

"We've been very honest about the limits of air power here. The ground forces that matter the most are indigenous ground forces, and we don't have a willing, capable, effective partner on the ground inside Syria right now – it's just a fact," Kirby said.

Many have criticized the government of neighboring Turkey for not taking a more assertive stance in halting IS’s gains in Syria. It has positioned tanks along its border with Syria, but made no moves to intercede. It has also turned back Kurdish men at the border seeking to fight in Kobane. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Thursday that Kobane was "about to fall," and that a ground operation was badly needed to defeat the jihadists. However, Turkey says it’s unrealistic for the world to expect it to spearhead a ground offensive. 

Speaking at a news conference with visiting NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that "Turkey will not hold back from carrying out its role" once an agreement is made with the US-led coalition fighting IS, the Associated Press reports.

Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq have played an important role in slowing IS advances. But Turkey has a turbulent history with Kurds who have fought for independence, and part of Turkey’s hesitancy in getting involved stems from concern over arming Kurdish fighters.

Violent protests in Turkey this week have added to the concern. The Christian Science Monitor reports:

Many among [Turkey’s] 15 million Kurds accuse the government in Ankara of abandoning the defenders of Kobane, target of a three-week IS assault.

Authorities Tuesday night deployed troops and armored personnel carriers to the four cities worst affected by the violence, and imposed curfews over a swathe of the southeast….

To some, the violence recalls the mid 1990s, when Turkey’s Kurdish region was put under military occupation as it descended into low-level civil war in which the PKK battled both the Turkish army and a Kurdish Sunni Islamist group known as Hezbollah.

Both the PKK and Hezbollah, which is unrelated to the Lebanese Shiite group of the same name, are designated terrorist groups in Turkey and in the United States….

The unrest also risks tearing apart 18-month-long peace talks between the government and Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s imprisoned leader, aimed at ending the group's 30-year-long insurgency.

At least 412 people have been killed in and around Kobane since mid-September, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More than half of those casualities were IS militants, the Telegraph reports.

The fighting in Kobane has displaced hundreds of thousands of Syrians in recent days, reports CNN. 

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