SURUC, TURKEY - U.S.-led airstrikes killed at least 32 Islamic State fighters in direct hits in Kobani this week because of closer coordination with Kurdish forces on the ground, a monitoring group said, after bombing of the Syrian town intensified.
Kurdish fighters, who have held off Islamic State militants for a month, said U.S.-led coalition airstrikes are helping, but they also need arms and ammunition to stave off continuing assaults.
Predictions of the imminent fall of the Syrian border town of Kobani to Islamic militants have come thick and fast in recent days with U.S. officials publicly saying Kurdish defenders can’t hold out much longer.
But despite the forecasts, the Kurds hang on and the brutal battle for control of the town has descended into a street-by-street, house-by-house brawl.
Increase in airstrikes
U.S. warplanes have ramped up the bite of their airstrikes on the jihadists, trying to take pressure off fighters from the Kurdish defense forces or YPG.
This week compared to last saw many more sorties flown by the U.S.-led coalition with warplanes from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joining in.
Kurdish officials said the main Kurdish armed group, the YPG, was giving the coordinates of Islamic State fighters in Kobani to the U.S.-led alliance that is bombing the group in both Iraq and Syria.
“The senior people in YPG tell the coalition the location of ISIL targets and they hit accordingly,” Polat Can, a YPG spokesman, told Reuters, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
“Some of them (ISIL) have withdrawn, but they regroup and return. But because the airstrikes are working in coordination, they hit their targets well,” Can said.
Idriss Nassan, spokesman for the Kobani town council, told supporters via Skype that the coalition warplanes are helping them to keep Islamic militants at bay.
“They are bombing very well in Kobani and around Kobani," Nassan said.
Progress by militants
But he admitted militants from the Islamic State group are making progress.
“We don’t have enough weaponry. We don’t have effective weaponry. They are using tanks, they are using cannons," Nassan said.
The Kurdish YPG have been struggling to defend Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, from better armed Islamic State fighters, who have used tanks, artillery and suicide truck bombs in a monthlong offensive against the town at the Turkish border.
Islamic State fighters have taken control of much of eastern and southern Kobani but have not made much progress this week.
The Kurdish forces said they have taken back areas on the west of the town.
U.S. officials said they carried out 21 airstrikes on Monday and Tuesday to try to halt the militants’ advance - each airstrike can consist of the launching of several air-to-ground missiles and precision-guided bombs. Warplanes can be heard constantly flying overhead.
But the U.S. cautioned the situation in Kobani remained fluid.
The days of battle are falling into a pattern.
The mornings start off quietly, but by lunchtime a crescendo builds of furious small-arms fire and airstrikes only to subside.
Then the battle resumes in early evening as the sun begins to fall - the nights are full of fury, explosions and intense gunfire.
This week Islamic State militants tried to bomb their way through Kurdish defenses by using suicide bombers. There have been nearly a dozen efforts.
In low-lying Turkish villages and hills along a 15-kilometer stretch of the border facing Kobani, refugees from the town and local Kurds have been watching the raging battle unfold with a mixture of feelings.
They cheer when an airstrike sends black plumes of smoke into the sky and crane to see where the ordnance struck. They seesaw between hope and despair, expressing one moment confidence the town won’t fall and then conceding they don’t know how the outgunned and outnumbered defenders can hold out.
Some feel hopeless. Seventeen-year-old Golizar had just watched an airstrike hit close to her family’s farm on the western side of the town - it may have hit the property.
“You see that your home is gone and you can’t [do] anything for her, for it," Golizar says sadly.
The Islamic State group, an al-Qaida offshoot, has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria in an effort to reshape the Middle East according to its hardline vision of Islam.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.