ISIS reportedly enters strategic Syrian town near Turkish border
ISIS pushes toward Turkey, tanks line up on border
The capture of Kobani would give ISIS control of a large swath of land borderingTurkey and eliminate a vital pocket of Kurdish resistance. It would also provide a link between the group’s territory near the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo and its largest operations base at Raqqa in northeastern Syria.
The Associated Press reported that warplanes believed to be part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, commonly known as ISIS, struck militant positions Tuesday. Journalists on the Turkish side of the border heard the sound of warplanes before two large plumes of smoke billowed just west of Kobani. A Fox News crew on the Turkish side of the border reported only one U.S. airstrike in the previous five days.
Fighting continued into Tuesday morning on the outskirts of the town. One coordinator with the Kurdish defenders told The New York Times that their defenses benefited from the new round of airstrikes, but they were still outmatched by the more heavily armed militants.
On Tuesday morning, AP reported that occasional gunfire could be heard in Kobani, also known by the Arabic name Ayn Arab. A flag of the Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, was seen flying over a hill in the center of town.
The Wall Street Journal reported that ISIS fighters had entered the eastern outskirts of the city on Monday after capturing more than 300 surrounding Syrian Kurdish villages in the previous three weeks. The paper also reported that the militants raised their black flag in two separate places, one on top of a civilian apartment building and another on a hilltop near a checkpoint at the city’s eastern entrance. The flag at the checkpoint could be seen by reporters watching from across the border in Turkey.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurds forced the jihadists to withdraw from the eastern part of the town in heavy clashes after midnight Tuesday, adding that five loud explosions were heard in the town as warplanes soared overhead. However, a local Kurdish militia commander estimated to The Journal that ISIS fighters were still a mile from the city center. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that ISIS had also taken over several buildings in the southwest of the city.
Before the recent fighting began, the city had been a focal point for refugees fleeing Syria’s three-years-long civil war. Between 160,000 and 180,000 people are believed to have fled into Turkey since the ISIS advance began. A Kurdish politician told Reuters that more than 2,000 Syrian Kurds, including women and children had been evacuated from the town in the midst of the fighting Monday.
State Department officials told the Journal that U.S. officials will travel to Turkey later this week to discuss the status of the international coalition. Retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the White House’s special envoy in the fight against ISIS, is among those traveling to Turkey.
Despite U.S. pressure to become a full-fledged member of the coalition, and despite the Turkish parliament passing a law giving the government authority to conduct operations against ISIS in Syria or Iraq, Ankara has largely stayed on the sidelines. Fox News reported Monday that twenty Turkish tanks have been stationed on a hillside overlooking Kobani, ready to strike the city on short notice. However, Turkish authorities have mostly been preoccupied with attempting to control the flow of Kurdish refugees across the border and deal with their protests at the government’s inaction.
Also Tuesday, Turkish media reported that police in Istanbul and at least six other Turkish cities clashed with hundreds of demonstrators. The private Dogan news agency clashes broke out in several Istanbul neighborhoods overnight, as protesters set up barricades, hurled stones, fireworks and firebombs at police and set a bus on fire. One police officer was injured.
Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse similar protests in the mostly Kurdish-populated cities of Diyarbakir, Batman, Van, Sirnak, Sanliurfa and Hakkari.
Fox News’ Greg Palkot and The Associated Press contributed to this report.