New U.S.-led airstrikes hit besieged Syrian town

Jens Stoltenberg, Mevlut Cavusoglu
New NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, speaks to the media after talks with Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, in Ankara, Turkey on Thursday. As U.S. generals and Secretary of State John Kerry warn that a strategic Syrian border town could fall to Islamic State militants, the Turkish military has deployed its tanks on its side of the frontier but only watched the slaughter. Turkey's inaction despite its supposed participation in a coalition forged to crush the extremist group is frustrating Washington and its NATO allies. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

MURSITPINAR, Turkey (AP) — The U.S.-led coalition pounded positions of the Islamic State group in the Syrian border town of Kobani on Thursday in some of the most intensive strikes in the air campaign so far, a Kurdish official and an activist group said.

But despite the airstrikes overnight and into the morning, the Islamic State fighters managed to capture a police station in the east of the town, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The station was later hit by coalition jets and destroyed.

The Observatory, a group that tracks Syria’s civil war through a network of activists on the ground, said the militants were now in control of more than third of the strategic border town.

The fighting over Kobani has brought Syria’s civil war yet again to Turkey’s doorstep and allies have tried to press Ankara to take a more robust role in the U.S.-led coalition to fight the Islamic State group. There has also been criticism that Turkey has stood by idly with its tanks parked just across the frontier from the Syrian Kurdish town.

Responding to such criticism, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that it was unrealistic to expect Turkey to launch a ground war against the Islamic State group on its own.

Cavusoglu spoke at a news conference in Ankara with visiting NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, who said that there is no easy solution to push back the siege on Kobani.

“ISIL poses a grave threat to the Iraqi people, to the Syrian people, to the wider region, and to NATO nations,” Stoltenberg said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. “So it is important that the whole international community stays united in this long-term effort.”

Cavusoglu said that Turkey is prepared to take on a bigger role once a deal is reached with the U.S.-led coalition. “Turkey will not hold back from carrying out its role,” he said.

Islamic State militants launched their offensive on Kobani in mid-September, capturing several nearby Kurdish villages and steadily tightening their noose around the town since then. The fighting has also forced at least 200,000 town residents and villagers from the area to flee across the frontier into Turkey.

However, Idriss Nassan, an official with Kobani’s Kurdish government, denied the militants were in control of a third of the town on Thursday.

He confirmed that the Kobani police station was taken by the Islamic State group but he said it was later destroyed in an airstrike. He said the Kurdish fighters managed to regain several other town areas on Thursday.

“I can confirm that they don’t control a third of the city. There is only a small part of Kobani under the control of Daesh,” said Nassan, using the Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.

Both Nassan and the Observatory said more than 20 airstrikes have been conducted in the area since Wednesday afternoon.

The Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman, said that more than 500 people have been killed in and around Kobani since the fighting began in September.

Also on Thursday, the Islamic State group brought reinforcements from their stronghold in the border town of Jarablous and the town of Manbij and Aleppo province, Abdurrahman said.

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