Al Jazeera America & Reuters – 2014-09-30 00:59:44
(September 27, 2014) — Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have continued to advance into the Kurdish-dominated town of Ain al-Arab in Syria, despite the US-led air campaign against the Al-Qaeda-linked group.
The US Central Command said the airstrikes destroyed an ISIL building and two armed vehicles near the border town of Kobane, which the insurgents have been besieging for the past 10 days.
It said an airfield, garrison and training camp near the ISIL stronghold of Raqqa were also among the targets damaged in seven airstrikes conducted by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, using fighter planes and remotely piloted aircraft.
The US has been carrying out strikes in Iraq since Aug. 8 and in Syria, with the help of Arab allies, since Tuesday, in a campaign it says is aimed at “degrading and destroying” the militants who have captured swathes of both countries.
A day after the UK parliament voted to allow British warplanes to attack ISIL in Iraq, two British fighter jets flew a mission over the country, the Ministry of Defense said, adding they had gathered intelligence but did not carry out air strikes.
ISIL, which swept across northern Iraq in June, has proclaimed an Islamic “caliphate,” beheaded Western hostages and ordered Shia Muslims and non-Muslims to convert or die. Its rise has prompted President Barack Obama to order US forces back into Iraq, which they left in 2011, and to go into action over Syria for the first time.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group that supports opposition forces fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Saturday’s air strikes set off more than 30 explosions in Raqqa.
Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the British-based Observatory, said 23 Islamic State fighters were killed. He said the heaviest casualties were inflicted in attacks on an airport.
But the monitoring group said ISIL was still able to shell eastern parts of Kobane, wounding several people, in a sign that its fighters were drawing closer. The insurgents’ weeklong offensive against the Kurdish town has prompted about 150,000 people to pour across the border into Turkey.
Turkey Shifts Stance
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan signaled a shift in Ankara’s position by saying for the first time that Turkish troops could be used to help set up a secure zone in Syria, if there was international agreement to establish one as a haven for those fleeing the fighting.
Turkey has so far declined to take a frontline role in the US-led coalition against ISIL, but Erdogan told the Hurriyet newspaper: “The logic that assumes Turkey would not take a position militarily is wrong.”
He said negotiations were under way to determine how the airstrikes and a potential ground operation would be undertaken and that Turkey was ready to take part.
“You can’t finish off such a terrorist organization only with airstrikes. Ground forces are complementary …. You have to look at it as a whole. Obviously I’m not a soldier but the air [operations] are logistical. If there’s no ground force, it would not be permanent,” he said.
Turkey, however, worries that a campaign against ISIL could strengthen Syrian Kurdish forces, which maintain close ties to Kurdish separatists in Turkey, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
Turkish officials near the Syrian border said ISIL fighters battling Kurdish forces for Kobane sent four mortar shells into Turkish territory, wounding two people. Heavy weapons fire was audible, and authorities blocked off the road towards the border.
“The situation has intensified since the morning. We are not letting anyone through right now because it is not secure at all. There is constant fighting, you can hear it,” the official said.
Kobane sits on a road linking north and northwestern Syria. ISIL militants were repulsed by local forces, backed by Kurdish fighters from Turkey, when they tried to take it in July.
Russia Questions Strikes
Syria’s government has not objected to the airstrikes that began on Tuesday and said it was informed by Washington before the air campaign began. But Russia questioned the legality of US and Arab airstrikes in Syria because they were carried out without the approval of Damascus, Moscow’s ally.
“It’s very important that such cooperation with Syrian authorities is established, even now that it’s an accomplished fact,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on Friday.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week’s strikes in Syria had disrupted ISIL’s command, control and logistics capabilities. But he said a Western-backed opposition force of 12,000 to 15,000 would be needed to retake areas of eastern Syria controlled by the group.
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