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Kurd Fighters Struggle to Defend IS-Besieged City

Turkish Kurds watch over Syrian town of Kobani from hill near Mursitpinar border crossing, southeastern Turkey, Oct. 11, 2014.
Turkish Kurds watch over Syrian town of Kobani from hill near Mursitpinar border crossing, southeastern Turkey, Oct. 11, 2014.

Kurdish fighters on Saturday continued waging a fierce effort to defend the Syrian-Kurdish city of Kobani near the Turkish border, which is in danger of falling to Islamic State (IS) militants, as U.S.-led coalition warplanes pounded targets in and near the city.

A senior Kurdish official told the Associated Press the clashes have been mostly in the southern and eastern parts of the city. He said the situation is dire and appealed for help.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday that IS fighters were in control of 40 percent of Kobani.

Kurdish fighters are trying to halt a three-week offensive by IS militants on the strategic border city as they aim to take complete control of the area.

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As fighting raged, Turkish troops remained disengaged just across the border, despite increasingly vocal international pressure on Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan to intervene.

On Friday, U.N. officials in the region warned that as many as 12,000 Kurds, including hundreds of elderly people in the town's center, "will most likely be massacred" if Kobani falls. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says IS extremists controlled 40 percent of the town by early Saturday.

The Turkish government has so far refused to join the battle, citing ties between Kobani's Kurdish defenders and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party. The PKK has waged a decades-long rebellion for self-rule in southeastern Turkey and has been designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.

Despite intense coalition airstrikes on IS targets in Kobani, there were widespread reports Saturday that those strikes were hampered by sand storms. On Friday, U.S. officials — stressing the need for ground troops — acknowledged those airstrikes have not stopped the onslaught.

Addressing Turkey's reluctance to help Syrian Kurd fighters, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Saturday that Washington is making "considerable progress" in talks with Ankara on plans to train moderate Syrian fighters.

Hagel, speaking in the Chilean capital, said U.S. talks in the coming days with Turkish military officials will focus on specifics of Turkey's training commitments.

Hagel added that the situation in Kobani is difficult and complicated, but he said Iraqi security forces are in full control of Baghdad and continue to strengthen their positions there.

IS fighters control large swaths of nearby northern and western Iraq, where coalition aircraft on Saturday also carried out targeted airstrikes. The U.S. military also conducted airdrops to help resupply Iraqi forces.

Leaders in Iraq's western Anbar province appealed for the deployment of U.S. ground forces to halt the advance of Islamic State fighters. The president of the Anbar Provincial Council, Sabah Al-Karhout, told CNN the situation is "very bad." He said the Council has intelligence the IS group has sent at as many as 10,000 fighters to Anbar from Syria and Mosul in the north.

Baghdad violence

Violence in and around the Iraqi capital on Saturday left at least 26 people dead and dozens of others wounded.

Police say two car bombings in Shi'ite parts in western Baghdad, including at a security checkpoint in the neighborhood of Kadhimiya, killed 15 people, while a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt in a market north of Baghdad, killing at least seven people, medical and police officials said.

The attack took place about 28 kilometers north of the capital, between the towns of Tarmiyah and Mishahda. The area has been the scene of clashes between Iraqi forces and Islamic State group fighters, who have taken control of large sections of northern and western Iraq this year.

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