7 Oct 2014

Kobani about to fall to Islamic State, says Turkey

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says the strategic Syrian border town of Kobani is about to fall to Islamic State militants.

IS fighters, using tanks and heavy weapons, looted from captured army bases in Iraq and Syria, have been pounding Kurdish forces in the strategic town for days, and yesterday planted their black flag on the town’s outskirts after seizing several nearby villages in an offensive launched last month.

Mr Erdogan said the coalition air campaign would not be enough to halt the IS advance and called for greater cooperation with the Syrian opposition, which is fighting both the IS fighters and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

‘Turkish tanks’

Mr Erdogan told Syrian refugees in the Turkish town of Gaziantep, near the border: “Kobani is about to fall. We asked for three things: one, for a no-fly zone to be created; two, for a secure zone parallel to the region to be declared; and for the moderate opposition in Syria and Iraq to be trained and equipped.”

Turkish tanks and other ground forces have been stationed along the border within a few hundred metres of the fighting in Kobani – also known as Ayn Arab – but have not intervened.

The latest round of airstrikes began late Monday and came as Kurdish forces pushed IS militants out of the eastern part of Kobani, where the militant group had raised their black flag over buildings hours earlier, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

On Tuesday morning journalists on the Turkish side of the border heard the sound of warplanes before two large plumes of smoke billowed out just west of Kobani.

The US-led coalition has launched several airstrikes over the past two weeks near Kobani in a bid to help Kurdish forces defend the town, but the sorties appear to have done little to slow the Islamic State group’s advance.

Mr Erdogan said more than 200,000 people have fled the fighting in and around Kobani in recent weeks. Their flight is among the largest single exoduses of the three-year Syrian conflict.

‘Virtual autonomy’

On Monday militants also carried out two suicide attacks in the north eastern Syrian city of Hasakah, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, killing at least 30 people.

Until recently, Kobani had hardly been touched by the civil war that has ravaged much of Syria, and even offered a haven for refugees from fighting elsewhere, as President Bashar al-Assad chose to let the Kurdish population have virtual autonomy.

But beheadings, mass killings and torture have spread fear of IS across the region, with villages emptying at its approach and an estimated 180,000 people fleeing into Turkey from the Kobani region.