Backed by Strikes, Kurds Battle to Defend Key Syria Town

Backed by Strikes, Kurds Battle to Defend Key Syria Town

Syrian Kurds wait after crossing the border between Syria and Turkey on September 30, 2014.(Agence France-Presse)

Mursitipinar, Turkey:  Kurdish fighters backed by US-led coalition air strikes were locked in a fierce battle on Wednesday to prevent a key Syrian border town from falling into the hands of jihadists.

The air strikes and heavy clashes in Ain al-Arab on the border with Turkey a crucial recent battleground in the fight against the Islamic State group left at least 18 people dead, including nine jihadists and nine Kurdish fighters, monitors said.

Ambulances ferried wounded fighters for treatment in Turkey as mortar exchanges continued on Wednesday, with some rounds hitting very close to the border, an AFP correspondent on the Turkish side reported.

As the battle raged, Syria's three-and-a-half year civil war claimed more lives with twin car bombings in the government-controlled city of Homs killing at least 18 people and Kurdish fighters in Iraq pursued their own advance against IS jihadists.

At Ain al-Arab, Kurdish forces have been on the retreat for more than two weeks in the face of a jihadist assault that sent tens of thousands of refugees streaming across the border.

With IS fighters less than three kilometres (two miles) from the town, the US-led coalition carried out at least five air strikes on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based monitoring group said the strikes hit IS fronts south and southeast of the town, known as Kobane by the Kurds, adding that at least eight jihadist fighters were killed in one of them.

One other jihadist and nine Kurdish fighters were killed in the overnight clashes, it said.

A recent refugee from the fighting told AFP that the light weapons available to the town's defenders meant that they could only engage the jihadists at close quarters.

"The Kurdish militia do not have tanks but possess Kalashnikov rifles and a few mortar bombs," Henanu Muhammed said.

Ain al-Arab would be a key prize for IS, giving it unbroken control of a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.

Deadly bombings near school

In Homs, children were among the 18 people killed in the twin car bombs near a school, the Observatory said.

The blasts struck in a neighbourhood of the city mainly inhabited by the Alawite community of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad which has been frequently targeted by the mainly Sunni Muslim rebels.

The US-led coalition of Western and Arab allies is providing air support to local forces in their ground war against IS, an extremist Sunni group that has seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq.

The US launched strikes in Iraq in August and has been joined by Western allies. Last week, Washington and Arab states also began hitting IS targets in Syria.

In Iraq, Kurdish fighters were advancing against IS militants on three fronts, with support from British and US air strikes.

Backed by 11 coalition strikes, Kurdish forces went on the offensive on Tuesday in the town of Rabia on the Syrian border, north of jihadist-controlled second city Mosul, and south of oil hub Kirkuk, commanders said.

Further south, Sunni Arab tribesmen opposed to IS repelled a renewed jihadist attack on their neighbourhood in the town of Dhuluiyah in fighting that killed 14 people, police and medics said.

Pentagon appeals for patience

The Pentagon appealed for patience, warning that there would by no quick and easy end to the fighting.

"No one should be lulled into a false sense of security by accurate air strikes," the Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, told reporters.

"We will not, we cannot bomb them into obscurity."

A long-term effort will be needed to train and arm Syrian rebel forces and strengthen Iraq's army, he said.

NATO member Turkey, after months of caution in the fight against IS, has decided to harden its policy, and the government asked parliament Tuesday to authorise military action against IS in Iraq and Syria.

Lawmakers are due to debate a motion Thursday that Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said would "meet all the demands and eliminate the risks and threats".

Australia announced that its military jets were joining the US-led air campaign in neighbouring Iraq in a support capacity, a day after Britain carried out its first strikes on IS targets there.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has described IS as an "apocalyptic death cult" said the aircraft would provide reconnaissance and refuelling support only for now.

Britain said its jets had destroyed an IS convoy west of Baghdad on Wednesday in their second strikes on the jihadists in Iraq in as many days.

On Tuesday, British warplanes destroyed an IS heavy weapons post and a machine gun-mounted vehicle in Iraq.

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