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Kurds Expand Offensive After Driving IS From Kobani

Kurds celebrating success by Kurdish and peshmerga fighters in driving Islamic State militants out of Kobani, hold a photo of a fighter killed in the conflict, near Turkish-Syrian border at Suruc, Sanliurfa province, Jan. 27, 2015.

Kurdish fighters widened their offensive Tuesday against Islamic State strongholds near Kobani, a day after claiming recapture of the embattled town on the Syrian border with Turkey.

The Kurds said they took control of the nearby village of Qarah Hlanj, a claim confirmed by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Kurdish fighting with the jihadists intensified in another village, Shiran.

U.S. officials tempered the Kurdish claim about Kobani, saying the Kurds controlled about 90 percent of it after four months of deadly conflict. Much of the one-time city of 200,000 people is in ruins from the fighting.

One senior State Department official told reporters in Washington that the Islamic State, "whether on order or whether they are breaking ranks, is beginning to withdraw" from Kobani.

The official added, however, it is too soon to declare "mission accomplished."

A small number of jubilant Kobani residents, thousands of whom fled to refugee camps in Turkey, began to trickle back into the city Tuesday.

Kurdish fighters hoisted their flags and posed for pictures on the rubble-strewn streets. But one official urged more one-time Kobani residents to stay away for awhile because there was no food, water, electricity or medicine.

Turkish security forces fired tear gas to prevent about 1,000 Kurds from crossing the border to join the celebration in Kobani.

The turn in the battle for Kobani could prove to be a key defeat for the Islamic State group, which over several months has taken control of vast reaches of northern Syria and western Iraq and imposed a borderless caliphate.

At the same time, it is a victory for the Kurdish fighters and the U.S.-led coalition that has launched hundreds of airstrikes on Islamic State positions inside Syria and Iraq, including Kobani.

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