Kobani defenders hold out as Iraq Kurds vote on reinforcements
MURSITPINAR, Turkey: Kurdish fighters defending Syria’s border town of Kobani held out against the Islamic State group Wednesday, anxious for relief as Iraq’s Kurdish parliament was set to vote on sending reinforcements.
Backed by air strikes from a US-led coalition, the Kurds have been defending the town on the Turkish border against a fierce IS offensive for more than a month.
After initially losing ground to the jihadists the Kurds have fought back hard, with the US military saying Tuesday they had halted the IS advance and remained in control of most of Kobani.
They were given a boost this week by the first US air drop of weapons and other supplies, though one of the parachuted crates was reported to have fallen into IS hands.
Now local Kurds say they need reinforcements, after Turkey announced Monday it would allow Kurdish fighters from Iraq to travel to the town, which has become a crucial symbolic battleground in the fight against IS.
A senior lawmaker in Iraq’s Kurdish regional parliament told AFP it would vote later Wednesday on deploying its peshmerga forces to the battle for Kobani.
“Today, the Kurdistan parliament will hold a session… to give the authorization and allow the president of the region to move forces to the town of Kobani” in Syria, Omid Khoshnaw, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s parliamentary bloc, told AFP.
Kurdish forces have played a leading role in northern Iraq in combatting IS, which has seized large parts of the country and neighboring Syria, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” in areas under its control.
Idris Nassen, a local Kurdish official, told AFP that no steps had yet been taken to coordinate the flow of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces to Kobani.
“We have to be informed. Without any coordination any crossing will be impossible,” he said, adding that there had been “fierce clashes” late Tuesday with IS attacking Kurdish positions from three directions.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 18 IS fighters were killed in the clashes on Tuesday and three more in US-led air strikes.
Three Kurdish fighters were also killed, said the Observatory, a Britain-based monitoring group with a broad network of sources inside Syria.
IS fighters are reported to have suffered heavy losses in the battle for Kobani, especially after the coalition dramatically increased strikes on their positions last week.
The Observatory said late Tuesday that 30 jihadists and 11 Kurdish fighters have been killed in the previous 24 hours and that IS was bringing in reinforcements “as a result of the daily losses in Kobani.”
US officials were initially hesitant to focus on Kobani, insisting the real battle against IS was in Iraq, but in recent days the coalition has carried out more than 140 air strikes in and around the town.
US Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters Tuesday the effort seemed to be paying off but that the danger to the town remained.
“The situation in Kobani still remains tenuous. We do assess that Kurdish forces in the city are in control of the majority of the city,” Kirby said.
American C-130 cargo planes dropped ammunition and medical supplies to the Kurdish forces early on Monday, with small arms and ammunition provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq.
One of the 27 bundles was reported to have gone astray, with an IS video showing a masked fighter opening wooden boxes filled with rockets and grenades.
Kirby said analysts were studying the video but the US military was “very confident that the vast majority of the bundles did end up in the right hands.”
The Syrian regime said its armed forces, including aircraft, had also provided military support to Kurdish fighters defending Kobani, including arms and ammunition.
Although it is not part of the US-led coalition, Damascus “will continue to give military aid to Kobani at the highest level,” Information Minister Omran Al-Zohbi said in comments published in the Syrian press.
The US has formed a coalition of Western and Arab allies to battle IS, which has been accused of widespread atrocities including mass executions, beheadings, rape, torture and selling women and children into slavery.
The group has been accused of especially harsh treatment of minorities and a senior UN official on Tuesday suggested it had attempted genocide against Iraq’s Yazidi minority.
IS has lured thousands of foreign fighters to its ranks and has a following among many disaffected Muslims, raisings fears of new attacks in Western countries.
Canada on Tuesday raised its national “terrorism” alert, after a soldier run over by a suspected jihadist died.