Sunday, October 19, 2014 4:31 pm
The Islamic State group was taking heavy losses in the Syrian battleground of Kobane Sunday as Iraqi forces fought the jihadists buoyed by US backing for top government security appointments.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the appointment of defence and interior ministers after weeks of delay was a “very positive step forward” in the fightback against IS in Iraq, which Washington has made its priority.
But US-led warplanes launched 11 air strikes near Kobane on Saturday and Sunday, US Central Command said, helping the town’s Kurdish defenders to repulse a new attempt to cut their supply lines into Turkey.
The Kurdish fighters, who have been under IS assault for more than a month, weathered fierce street fighting and at least two jihadist suicide bombings but the front line remained unchanged on Sunday, a Kurdish official said.
“(IS) brought in reinforcements… and attacked hard,” Idris Nassen told AFP by telephone.
“But thanks to air strikes and (the Kurdish fighters’) response, they did not make any progress.”
The IS fighters suffered heavy losses in Kobane, which has become a key prize as it is being fought under the gaze of the world’s press massed just over the border in Turkey.
From Saturday into Sunday morning, a total of 31 jihadists died in the battle, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Coalition air strikes near Kobane hit 20 IS fighting positions, five IS vehicles and two IS-held buildings, said Central Command, with the Observatory adding that they killed 15 jihadists.
Clashes on the ground killed another 16 jihadists and seven Kurdish fighters, said the Britain-based Observatory, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.
– Hospital counts IS bodies –
A steady flow of bodies from the Kobane fighting have arrived at an IS-controlled hospital further east, the Observatory said.
The corpses of at least 70 jihadists had been brought into the mortuary in the town of Tal Abyad in the past four days.
The US military has said it sees “encouraging” signs in the battle for Kobane, although it warns the town may still fall.
On Sunday the White House said President Barack Obama called his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and that they pledged to “strengthen cooperation” against IS in Syria.
But US commanders have said repeatedly the main priority remains the battle against IS in neighbouring Iraq, where the jihadists swept through much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in June.
The minority community’s grievances against the Shiite led-government were a major factor in the lightning advance and Washington has been piling pressure on Baghdad to form an inclusive government capable of mounting a fightback.
On Saturday, the remaining posts in a new government line-up were finally approved by parliament, including a Sunni as defence minister and a Shiite as interior minister.
“These were critical positions to be filled, in order to assist with the organising effort” against IS, the US top diplomat said. “So we’re very pleased.”