WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Barack Obama says he is "deeply concerned" about Kobani, the key Syrian city that Kurdish fighters are struggling to keep from falling into Islamic State hands.
Meeting with more than 20 foreign military chiefs at a U.S. air base outside Washington Tuesday, where they discussed the fight against the militants, Obama said the crisis in Kobani underscores the threat Islamic State poses to Syria and Iraq.
The U.S. president said coalition airstrikes against the militants will continue, but that the long-term campaign against the group will not involve “quick fixes” but include “days of progress and periods of setback.”
He also stressed that defeating Islamic State is not just a military campaign — the fight also is against extremism.
Flanked by military officials from the Middle East, Europe and Australia, President Obama told reporters the situation in Kobani underscores the threat the Islamic State poses in both Iraq and Syria.
He said the 60-nation coalition is united behind the long-term effort to degrade and destroy the militant group, but emphasized the fight against the Islamic State is “not simply a military campaign.”
"This not a classic army in which we defeat them on the battlefield and then they ultimately surrender," he said. "What we are also fighting is an ideological strain of extremism that has taken root in too many parts of the region.”
The president said sectarianism, political divisions and economic deprivation have long been a rallying point for those who take up arms with the Islamic State. He said the international community must do a better job of communicating an alternative vision for disaffected youth in the region.
The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, hosted Tuesday’s talks at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, while thousands of kilometers away, the U.S. military said fighter jets had carried out 22 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria since Monday.
U.S. Central Command said the strikes near Kobani have slowed militant advances on the Kurdish city but maintained the situation on the ground “remains fluid," and that airstrikes are aimed primarily at keeping IS militants from sending more fighters and supplies to Kobani. It also said the Kurds are "continuing to hold out."
The U.S. said it destroyed or damaged insurgent compounds, staging areas and armored vehicles. In addition, the U.S. said it hit a modular oil refinery at Dayr az Zawr.
Huge plumes of smoke from the explosions around Kobani could be seen from vantage points in Turkey.
Activists in northern Syria said Kurdish fighters captured a strategic hill near Kobani and took down a black Islamic State flag.
Turkish officials denied Monday that they have reached an agreement with the United States for the U.S.-led coalition to use an air base in southern Turkey to launch attacks against Islamic State fighters.
U.S. officials said Sunday discussions were ongoing, but that Turkey had cleared the use of Incirlik air base, about 100 kilometers from the Syrian border.
On Tuesday, the International Energy Agency credited the U.S.-led airstrikes with significantly reducing the Islamic State militants' ability to produce, smuggle and refine oil, according to the agency's monthly report, which cited Western and Iraqi officials.
The coalition's targeting of Islamic State-held oil infrastructure has knocked crude production down to around 20,000 barrels per day (bpd) from a high of about 70,000 bpd achieved after the group expanded its territory over the summer, the report said.
In addition, the governments of Turkey and Iraq's Kurdistan Region have cracked down on the Islamic State group's smuggling of crude oil, which had brought in revenue estimated at $1 million to $3 million for the radical Sunni Islamist group.
The crackdown has cut smuggling to less than 10,000 bpd from a high of 30,000 bpd, unnamed officials said in the report.
The United States and its allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, began launching air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq in August, and in Syria in September, including targeted strikes against oilfields and refineries controlled by the group.
In Kobani, an official said the insurgents had surrounded the town on three sides, all but the northern entry closest to Turkey, and voiced fears that access to the town could be cut off if the militants encircle it.
French President Francois Hollande also warned that Kobani "could at any moment fall into the hands of the terrorists."
Hollande urged Turkey to open its border with Syria to allow Kurdish reinforcements to reach the embattled town.
Military aid debated
On Tuesday, a senior Iraqi Kurdish official said Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has provided military aid to Kurdish fighters in the embattled city.
“We helped them in roughly every arena. We sent them aid, including military,” said Hamid Darbandi, the KRG official responsible for Syrian Kurdish affairs.
He declined to provide further details.
However, the Syrian Kurds in the town said they had received nothing so far.
A Syrian Kurdish official in the region said the weapons had been sent as a “symbolic” arms shipment, but that it had not reached Kobani because Turkey would not open the transit corridor sought by the Syrian Kurds to allow them to reinforce the town.
The aid, including ammunition for light weapons and mortar shells, is stuck in a Kurdish-controlled region of northeastern Syria, Alan Othman, spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish military council in the area, told Reuters via Skype.
Also Tuesday, the Islamic State gained new support in Pakistan.
The spokesman for the banned militant group Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan and five other commanders pledged their allegiance, saying they consider Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as their caliph and will accept his directives.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Obama briefly addressed the global threat of Ebola, noting “numerous strides” to get medical equipment, heath workers and other aid into West Africa; but, he called for the global community to do more.
“The world as a whole is not doing enough," he said. "There are a number of countries that have capacity that have not yet stepped up. Those that have stepped up, all of us will have to do more, because unless we contain this at the source, this is going to continue to pose a threat to individual countries.”
As for the United States, where a nurse in Dallas, Texas, is the second reported case of Ebola, Obama said the government would ensure that the lessons from Dallas are applied to hospitals and health centers around the country. He repeated the U.S. has the necessary medical infrastructure to make an Ebola epidemic highly unlikely.
Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.