US-led coalition meets as strikes pound jihadists

AFP , Tuesday 14 Oct 2014

Thick smoke rises following an airstrike by the US-led coalition in Kobani, Syria as fighting continued between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, as seen from Mursitpinar on the outskirts of Suruc, Turkey on Oct. 13, 2014. (Photo: AP)

The United States and its allies held top-level military talks Tuesday as Washington hailed signs of progress in the fight against jihadists following a wave of air strikes in Syria.

American-led warplanes hammered Islamic State (IS) group militants with 21 bombing raids near the Syrian border town of Kobane on Monday and Tuesday, the US military said.

It came as a gunman shot dead an American and wounded another at a petrol station in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

It was not immediately clear if there was any link between the attack and Saudi Arabia's participation in the US-led strikes in Syria.

Despite the allied firepower, IS militants recently captured nearly half of Kobane and seized most of Iraq's largest province, Anbar, to add to their self-proclaimed Islamic "caliphate".

But US Central Command said Tuesday that there were indications air raids "have slowed ISIL (IS) advances" around Kobane, adding the situation remained fluid.

The battle against jihadists was set to dominate the talks at Andrews Air Force base outside Washington between military chiefs from 22 countries, including all five of the Arab states that are taking part in the air campaign in Syria.

The meeting "provides an opportunity to take stock of coalition progress to date and continue to align and fully integrate the unique capabilities of coalition partners," said Alistair Baskey, spokesman for the US National Security Council.

US President Barack Obama was also due to meet the coalition commanders and looked forward to discussing "additional measures that the coalition can take to degrade and ultimately destroy" the IS group, Baskey said.

US officials said no dramatic announcements were expected but the meeting would ensure better coordination between the allies.

It was the first time such high-ranking military officials from so many nations have come together since the coalition -- which, on paper, now includes about 60 countries -- was formed in September.

Turkey's call for the establishment of a protective buffer zone along its border with Syria, where the jihadists have pushed into the heart of the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobane, was also expected to be on the agenda.

Ankara, which has faced a three-decade Kurdish insurgency, has tightened security of its porous Syrian border after the escalating fighting in Kobane sparked the exodus of 200,000 refugees.

Turkish jets late Monday bombed targets in the southeast of the country where members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party are based, the first strikes on the outlawed group since a 2013 ceasefire, a security source said.

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday urged Turkey to open its frontier with Syria to help Kurdish fighters in Kobane, warning that the town could fall to IS "at any moment".

"I think about what is happening today in Kobane, a martyred town, a symbolic town. If we have to intervene, as we decided for France in Iraq, we also have to give the moderate Syrian opposition... all the support, all the help necessary," he said.

Fighting is reported to have spread to less than a kilometre (half a mile) from the barbed wire fence of the frontier with Turkey, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Kurdish fighters were on Tuesday trying to push into the eastern part of Kobane under IS control, said the Britain-based group, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.

It came a day after the Kurdish militia captured the strategic hilltop of Tel Shair west of Kobane, according to the Observatory, which said the site had changed hands several times.

The black IS flag was no longer flying on the hill, according to an AFP reporter on the Turkish side of the border who also saw several coalition air strikes on Tuesday.

Concern has also been growing over Iraq, where IS fighters have been threatening to seize more territory.

Iraqi forces are reported to be under intensifying pressure in Anbar province, a vast region stretching from near Baghdad to the border with Syria.

On Monday, security sources said Iraqi troops stationed on the edge of Heet in Anbar had withdrawn to another base, leaving the city under full jihadist control.

Pro-government forces have also been in trouble south of IS-held Mosul around the Baiji oil refinery, where US aircraft on Sunday for the first time dropped supplies including food, water and ammunition to Iraqi troops.

In Baghdad, a suicide car bomb attack on a checkpoint killed at least 15 people Tuesday, the third deadly bombing to hit the Shiite neighbourhood of Kadhimiyah in four days, medical sources said.

It came a day after at least 43 people were killed in three attacks in Baghdad, including one on the edge of Kadhimiyah that was claimed by IS.

The jihadist group is accused of committing widespread atrocities in areas it controls, including attacks on civilians, mass executions, beheadings and enslaving women.

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