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ISIS Intensifies Siege of Kurdish Enclave in Syria
The Islamic State is pouring reinforcements into the besieged Syrian city of Kobani, underscoring its goal to seize that Kurdish enclave near the Turkish border and deal a significant setback to the United States-led air campaign, American officials said Friday.
The rush of heavily armed Islamic State fighters toward Kobani from multiple directions has provided allied warplanes with an array of tanks, artillery and armed vehicles to strike easily from the air, a senior Pentagon official said. Elsewhere in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State fighters have in recent days dispersed to avoid the American attacks.
Although a last-ditch barrage of 45 airstrikes around Kobani in the past week may have inflicted heavy damage on the Islamic State, American officials acknowledged on Friday that they had failed to prevent the militants from seizing about one-quarter of the town amid fierce fighting with Kurdish defenders.
"Kobani hangs in the balance," a senior Pentagon official said. The Islamic State "very badly wants to take Kobani for the propaganda value."
As the noose tightened, Turkish troops just across the border remained in place, despite growing pressure on the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to intervene to avoid a possible massacre of the remaining civilians. In Ankara, the Turkish capital, the American envoy coordinating the coalition against the Islamic State, Gen. John R. Allen, wrapped up two days of meetings with Turkish officials and NATO's new secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, with no apparent shift in how Turkey would help.
With the Islamic State gaining ground in both Syria and Iraq, despite the daily airstrikes, the Pentagon announced that Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would meet on Tuesday at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington with his counterparts from the more than 20 countries now involved in the fight against the Islamic State to discuss war strategy.
Along the Syrian border, explosions and small-arms fire could be heard from Kobani on Friday.
The clashes came just a day after Kurdish officials sounded rare notes of optimism about the battle, saying that two days of repeated airstrikes by coalition forces had begun to ease the assault.
But for most of the day on Friday, ambulances raced into Turkey, shuttling wounded people to a local hospital in the town of Suruc. And by early afternoon, the fighters in Kobani sounded overwhelmed.
"We are killing them, and they keep coming," said a Kurdish fighter from Turkey, Timur Demirboga, a 32-year-old tour guide who said he had been in Kobani for 15 days, with five of them spent learning how to fight.
"They are coming from the east of the city, and the west," he said by telephone, with the sound of heavy gunfire in the background. "Today, they are coming powerfully," he said, excusing himself as the fight drew near.
Around 3:45 p.m., a huge explosion near the Turkish border at first seemed like an airstrike, with no sound of aircraft overhead. "I can't tell what it is," said Ismat Sheikh Hasan, the defense minister for the Kurdish People's Protection Committees, known as the Y.P.G. "They have been trying to advance since the morning," he said, adding that the militants appeared to have been resupplied with weapons.
Anwar Muslim, a lawyer and the head of the Kobani district, who was in the area at the time of the explosion, said it was either a "suicide attack or a car bomb."
"They are using all ugly ways to try to advance," he said. "We had less airstrikes today and we have no idea why."
The fighting in Kobani unfolded on Friday, as it has for weeks, in front of an audience, including residents of nearby towns and villages, some of whom have relatives living or fighting in the city. They sat watching on the edge of corn and cotton fields. The audience also included dozens of journalists, as well as Turkish troops, sitting in armored vehicles, whose inaction during the fighting has fueled a rising anger among Kurds on both sides of the border.
The city, seen through binoculars on Friday, bore the scars of heavy weapons. A large glass building in the center appeared badly damaged, as did as a white building to the east, on top of which flew the black flag of the Islamic State.
A spokesman for the Pentagon's Central Command, Col. Patrick Ryder, said that although Kurdish militia were "leveraging the airstrikes and continue to hold out," the militants were "making some advances and occupying new territory."
Kurdish officials have welcomed the airstrikes but called them insufficient unless their fighters receive reinforcements, ammunition and supplies, the kind of help that Turkey's government has so far prevented. The standoff has fueled days of unrest in Turkey, leaving at least 30 people dead.
An hour or so after the mystery explosion, at least two warplanes could be seen in the skies over Kobani, and in quick succession, four airstrikes hit an area near the Turkish border.
But the sounds of the clashes resumed. Mr. Demirboga, the tour guide turned fighter, on a two-hour break from the front lines, said Islamic State fighters were about a hundred meters, or 330 feet, away. The airstrikes, he said, had made "no difference."
[Source: By Eric Schmitt and Kareem Fahim, The New York Times, Washington, 10Oct14]
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