Kurdish forces held out in Kobane on Thursday as a jihadist offensive entered its second month, but the Pentagon warned US-led air strikes may not prevent the Syrian border town's fall.
Kurdish fighters backed by a flurry of US-led air strikes were still holding out Thursday against jihadists in Kobane, as an Islamic State offensive on the Syrian border town entered its second month.
IS militants have also been beaten back this week from Amriyat al-Fallujah, a key city just west of Baghdad, but the US military denied the Iraqi capital was in “imminent” danger.
The Americans said they held direct talks at the weekend in Paris with the main Syrian Kurdish group whose forces have been battling IS, adding they had yet to discuss arming the fighters.
The Kurds claimed to have pushed IS back in parts of Kobane, but the Pentagon warned that the multinational strikes may not prevent the town’s fall even though hundreds of jihadists are thought to have been killed.
Mortar and heavy machinegun fire rang out later as IS appeared to have relaunched its bid to cut the town off from the Turkish border, said an AFP correspondent across the frontier.
Despite intensified strikes on Kobane this week by the United States and its Arab allies, the Kurds are calling for increased firepower in the battle for the strategic town.
“We need more air strikes, as well as weaponry and ammunition to fight them on the ground,” said Idris Nassen, an official in Kobane.
An estimated 200,000 mainly Kurdish Syrians have fled the IS onslaught for the relative safety of Turkey.
A grocer who had escaped offered insight Thursday into those fighting for IS, saying that one they had captured, an Azerbaijani in his 20s, had even asked to be killed.
“He begged us to kill him so he could go to paradise and be rewarded,” said Cuneyt Hemo, adding that the jihadist was held for a day and then shot dead.
Islamic State is also battling to control other parts of Syria, including Hasakeh province, where Kurdish fighters killed 20 jihadists Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
– Hundreds dead –
Kurdish forces have suffered heavy losses since IS launched its offensive on the Kobane area in mid-September, but so too have the jihadists.
As of Wednesday, ground clashes alone had killed 662 people since September 16, including 20 civilians, the Observatory said.
IS lost 374 of its militants, while 268 people have been killed fighting on the Kurdish side, according to the Britain-based monitor, which has a network of sources inside Syria.
US Central Command said American warplanes struck 14 times near Kobane on Wednesday and Thursday, including “successful” raids on 19 IS-held buildings.
Coalition forces have now carried out more than 100 air strikes near Kobane since September 27.
The Pentagon said the raids had killed “several hundred” jihadist fighters.
The US military says Kobane may eventually fall but insists the town is not a “strategic” location and that other areas carry more importance, particularly in western Iraq and the suburbs of Baghdad.
Bombings in and around Baghdad killed at least 26 people and wounded dozens Thursday, including a double car bombing in the Dolai neighbourhood that was claimed by IS.
Despite such attacks, US military spokesmen Rear Admiral John Kirby said “we don’t believe that Baghdad is under imminent threat” from the jihadists.
“It’s not the first time in recent weeks or even months that there’s been IED (improvised explosive device) attacks inside Baghdad.”
Kirby added “terrible” weather and sand storms in recent days had hampered the US-led air strikes Iraq.
President Barack Obama told military chiefs from more than 20 allies this week they are facing a “long-term campaign” against the Islamic State group.
Obama has expressed special concern for Kobane and about halting the IS advance in Iraq’s western Anbar province.
– ‘Antithesis of human rights’ –
In June, IS declared a “caliphate” straddling areas it seized in Iraq and Syria, and has committed widespread atrocities, including mass executions, the beheading of Westerners and forcing women and girls into slavery.
The new UN human rights chief told his first press briefing on Thursday that IS was the “antithesis of human rights”.
“It kills, it tortures, it rapes,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
“It is a diabolical, potentially genocidal movement, and the way it has spread its tentacles into other countries, employing social media and the Internet to brainwash and recruit people from across the globe, reveals it to be the product of a perverse and lethal marriage of a new form of nihilism with the digital age.”
Hussein also promised an updated UN assessment of the death toll in the more than three-year-old conflict in Syria, saying it would certainly be well over 200,000.
Six children were among 14 people killed Thursday in air raids carried out by the Syrian regime in Jisrin, east of Damascus, and along the highway linking the capital to the northern city of Aleppo, said the Observatory.