U.S. airstrikes target ISIS near embattled Kobane

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobane, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, on Oct. 3, 2014.

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobane, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, on Oct. 3, 2014.

The United States launched nine air strikes on Thursday on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants advancing in the northern Syrian town of Kobane, U.S. Central Command said.

Six airstrikes south of Kobane struck a large ISIS unit and two small ones, and destroyed two buildings held by the militants along with a tank and heavy machine gun, the Central Command statement said.

Three airstrikes north of Kobane struck two small ISIS units and destroyed two buildings held by the militants, the statement added.

ISIS was in control of more than a third of the Syrian border town , Agence France-Presse reported a monitoring group as saying on Thursday, after three weeks of fighting Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led air strikes.

“ISIS control more than a third of Kobane. All eastern areas, a small part of the north east and an area in the south east,” head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, said by telephone.

U.S. says air power not enough

While the U.S. and coalition airstrikes have forced some ISIS militants out of Kobane, air power is not enough to save the city, a Pentagon spokesman said on Wednesday.

“Kobane could be taken. We recognize that,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters.

“We’re doing everything we can from the air to try to halt the momentum of ISIS against that town,” he added. “Air power is not going to be alone enough to save that city.”

Turkey says no to unilateral action

Turkey maintains it does not want Kobane to fall, but Turkish officials said they will not enter combat until they are assured that the U.S.-led coalition has a long-term strategy in Syria.

Turkey on Thursday also said it cannot be expected to lead a ground operation against jihadists in Syria alone, amid growing pressure on Ankara from the West to intervene militarily.

“It’s not realistic to expect that Turkey will lead a ground operation on its own,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a news conference with visiting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Turkey’s inaction despite its supposed participation in a coalition forged to crush the extremist group is frustrating Washington and its NATO allies, and reviving a rebellion by Turkish Kurds.

No plans for boots on ground

Turkey’s statement came after Pentagon officials asserted that they are not planning to ask President Barack Obama to commit ground forces to the fight inside Syria, Kirby said.

“We all need to prepare ourselves for the reality that other towns and villages – and perhaps Kobane- will be taken by ISIS,” Kirby said, adding that the key to eventually defeating the militants is to train and enable indigenous ground forces.

The U.S. and partner countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have been bombing ISIS targets in Syria under Obama’s order to degrade and destroy the group. But administration officials have cautioned that the going will be slow.

“We don’t have a force inside Syria that we can cooperate with and work with,” Kirby said.

U.S. plans to train rebels

That is why the administration is planning to train and arm 5,000 moderate opposition Syrian fighters at sites elsewhere in the Middle East and then insert them back into Syria to take on ISIS forces, Kirby said.

There were airstrikes at six locations around Kobane on Tuesday, and others earlier this week. Kirby said there are mixed reports about how many ISIS militants pulled back from the town under pressure from the air.

In a statement Wednesday night, U.S. Central Command said it appeared that Kurdish militia continued to control most of the city and were holding out against the militants.

Obama was at the Pentagon on Wednesday to consult with military leaders on progress in the campaign to counter ISIS.

The office of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he will host a meeting Oct. 14 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland with his counterparts from about 20 of the countries that have joined the U.S. in combating ISIS.

 
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