MURSITPINAR, Turkey: Kurdish fighters halted a thrust by Islamic State (IS) jihadists toward the heart of the Syrian border town of Kobane on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), after the United Nations warned thousands of civilians risked massacre if it falls.
The pre-dawn attack came after the IS militants captured the defenders’ headquarters on Friday, sparking fears they would cut off the last escape route to neighboring Turkey.
Meanwhile, US officials warned that while attention is focused on Kobane, the jihadists have been piling on pressure in Iraq.
US military planes dropped ammunition, food and water on Friday and Saturday to Iraqi troops under pressure from IS in north Iraq, the US Central Command said.
The move marked the first time that coalition aircraft airdropped supplies to Iraqi government forces. Similar drops were previously part of humanitarian missions for civilians, such as Yazidis and Turkmen.
Meanwhile, British soldiers are in Iraq training the Kurdish peshmerga forces battling Islamic State jihadists, the Ministry of Defense in London said on Saturday.
A “small, specialist team” is operating in Arbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, training peshmerga how to use the heavy machine guns Britain supplied in September.
Military chiefs from the 21 countries already committed to the coalition are to meet in Washington this week to discuss strategy, Pentagon officials said.
US defense officials insist the primary focus of the campaign remains Iraq, where there are capable local forces on the ground to work with, particularly Kurds in the north.
Some of Anbar province fell to IS at the start of the year and most of the rest was seized by the Sunni extremists in a lightning sweep through Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland in June.
“I think it’s fragile there now,” one senior US defense official told Agence France-Presse.
“They are being resupplied and they’re holding their own, but it’s tough and challenging,” the official added.
The renewed IS drive in Kobane sparked 90 minutes of heavy fighting before the jihadists fell back, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
US-led coalition warplanes launched two air strikes against IS targets south and east of town early on Saturday, said the group, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.