ISTANBUL – Islamic State militants have captured about one-third of the city of Kobani in the past 24 hours, but Kurdish defenders are fighting fiercely to prevent their advance, Syrian opposition activists said Thursday.
Islamic State forces captured a police station and a school in the eastern part of the city, while fighters from the People’s Protection Units – the Kurdish group known as the YPG, which has controlled the city since the middle of 2012 – were still in control of the city center and the city’s west.
U.S. aircraft launched five airstrikes against Islamic State positions south of Kobani, the military’s Central Command said Thursday. Centcom described the targets as a training camp, a support building, two vehicles and two units of Islamic State fighters. It gave no estimate of casualties, though fighters inside the city said at least 11 Islamic State fighters and six members of the Kurdish militias had died in the fighting.
“Indications are that Kurdish militia there continue to control most of the city and are holding out against ISIL,” Centcom’s statement said, using the government’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS.
Abu Issa, the leader of the Thwar al-Raqqa Brigade of the Free Syrian Army, which is fighting inside Kobani, told McClatchy that he believed the fall of the city was only hours away.
Other reports indicated that the Islamic State had set fire to tires in Kobani in an effort to obscure the vision of U.S. drone aircraft, which journalists reported were a nearly constant presence over the city.
The battle for Kobani has become one of the most closely watched fights in the war against the Islamic State, though the strategic value of the city is disputed.
At least part of the interest in what is taking place there comes from its visibility – journalists can literally watch the fighting from hillsides inside Turkey. That has made Kobani a dramatic backdrop for reports on many of the war’s major themes: Islamic State military prowess, the persistence of outgunned Kurdish fighters, the effectiveness of U.S. airstrikes, Turkey’s ambivalence toward joining the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, and its long-running battle against its own Kurdish separatists.
Despite calls for it to intervene to save Kobani, Turkey has made clear it won’t. An estimated 160,000 Kurdish civilians have fled into Turkey in recent weeks, and Turkey dispatched armored vehicles to the border last week. But the only hostile action came when Turkish security forces fired tear gas against Kurdish civilians demanding that Turkey intervene. In recent days, clashes in Turkish cities between security forces and Kurdish demonstrators have killed as many as 24 people.
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