MURSITPINAR, TURKEY —
Large plumes of smoke rose in the air in the border region around Kobani on Thursday as a U.S.-led coalition launched more airstrikes against Islamic State targets.
Loud explosions were heard on the Turkish border with Syria as clouds of smoke filled the sky over the embattled town following a morning of relative calm.
Also Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S.-led air war against Islamic State militants will intensify in the future as Iraqi ground forces improve and become more effective.
Defending the U.S. strategy, Hagel said, "As Iraqi forces build strength, the tempo and intensity of our coalition's air campaign will accelerate in tandem."
Hagel and U.S. General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee.
The testimony comes days after U.S. President Barack Obama authorized the U.S. military to deploy up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq. Obama is asking for $5.6 billion to help fund the campaign.
Dempsey said it is possible that sometime in the future U.S. officials will consider assigning a modest number of American troops to fight with Iraqi forces in the northern city of Mosul and elsewhere.
“I am not predicting at this point that I would recommend that those forces in Mosul and along the border would need to be accompanied by U.S. forces, but we are certainly considering it,” Dempsey said.
Islamic State militants seized control of most of Mosul in June.
U.S.-led forces conducted 16 airstrikes in Syria, most of them around the strategic town near the Turkish border, and seven in the oil-producing northern region of Iraq since Monday, the U.S. Central Command said.
IS leader said to be on tape
Meanwhile, Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called for attacks in Saudi Arabia, said his caliphate was expanding across the Arab world, and called for “volcanoes of jihad” in a speech purported to be in his name on Thursday.
The comments by the militant group's leader came in an audio statement, his first since a U.S.-led alliance began conducting airstrikes targeting the group in Iraq and Syria.
In the statement, released Thursday on social media networks, he also said his fighters “will never leave fighting, even if only one soldier remains.”
The recording appeared authentic, and his voice appeared to correspond with previous recordings released by the group, The Associated Press reported. However, Reuters could not independently confirm the authenticity of the speech.
There have been contradictory accounts out of Iraq following U.S. airstrikes on Friday about whether Baghdadi was wounded in a raid. The United States said on Tuesday it could not confirm whether he was killed or wounded in Iraq following a strike near the city of Falluja.
The speech released Thursday was not dated but carried a reference to a Nov. 7 U.S. announcement that President Barack Obama had approved sending up to 1,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq.
Weeks of U.S.-led airstrikes have failed to break their stranglehold, and Kurds are hoping the arrival of the peshmerga, welcomed by Washington, will turn the tide.
The battle for Kobani, also known in Arabic as Ayn al-Arab, has become a test of the U.S.-led coalition's ability to stop Islamic State's advance.
VOA's Meredith Buel contributed to this story from Washington. Some material for this report provided by AP.