Syrian Kurds weather ISIL assault as they await reinforcements

Syrian Kurds weather ISIL assault as they await reinforcements

MURŞITPINAR - Agence France-Presse
Syrian Kurds weather ISIL assault as they await reinforcements

Smoke and flames rise following an explosion in the Syrian town of Kobane as seen from the Turkish borde, Oct. 20. AFP Photo / Bülent Kılıç

Kurdish fighters in the battleground Syrian town of Kobane weathered an onslaught by militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Oct. 21 as they awaited promised reinforcements from Iraq.

The Kurdish militia faced a fierce attack by ISIL fighters, including suicide bombers, late on Monday, that appeared aimed at cutting off the border with Turkey before any reinforcements could arrive, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Ankara's announcement on Oct. 20 that it would help Kurdish forces from Iraq to relieve Kobane's beleaguered defenders marked a major shift of policy and was swiftly welcomed by Washington.

Kobane has become a crucial symbolic battleground in the war against ISIL, which is fighting to extend areas under its control in Iraq and Syria where it has declared an Islamic "caliphate."

An influx of well-trained peshmerga fighters into Kobane could be a major boost for the Syrian Kurds.

Iraqi Kurdish officials said they would provide training, although any forces sent would be Syrian Kurds.

The U.S. administration has stepped up its commitment to the town's defence in recent days, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying it would be "irresponsible" and "morally very difficult" not to help.

Three C-130 cargo aircraft carried out what the U.S. military called "multiple" successful drops of supplies early on Monday, including arms provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq.

The supplies were "intended to enable continued resistance against ISIL's attempts to overtake Kobane," said U.S. Central Command.

One of the 27 bundles dropped went astray and U.S. warplanes bombed it to prevent it falling into ISIL hands.

The U.S.-led coalition has carried out more than 135 air strikes against ISIL targets around Kobane, but it was the first time it had delivered arms to the town's defenders.

Coalition aircraft carried out further strikes during the night, said the Britain-based Observatory, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.

'Impressive resistance'

ISIL lost at least five of its militants to air strikes on Oct. 20 and a further 12 in ground fighting, including two suicide bombers, the monitoring group said. Five Kurdish fighters were also killed.

A senior administration official said Monday's airdrop was in recognition of the "impressive" resistance put up by the Kurds and the losses they were inflicting on ISIL.

But U.S. commanders said the top priority remains Iraq, where ISIL swept through much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in June and both government and Kurdish forces are under pressure.

The jihadists attacked the Kurdish-controlled town of Qara Tapah on Oct. 20, killing at least 10 people and prompting half of its population of 9,000 to flee.

"We are afraid ISIL will encircle us and turn this town into a second Amerli," said one resident of the town. He was referring to a mainly Shiite Turkmen town further north which was besieged by ISIL for two months before government troops backed by militia broke through in late August.

Britain sends drones

Meanwhile, Britain said on Oct. 21 it was authorising armed and unarmed drones to fly surveillance missions over Syria "very shortly" to gather intelligence on ISIL militants.

Michael Fallon, the defense minister, said both Reaper and Rivet Joint drones would fly over Syria as part of "efforts to protect our national security from the terrorist threat emanating from there."

But in a written statement to parliament, he stressed that Reapers would not be allowed to use their weapons in Syria, something he said would require "further permission." A defence ministry spokeswoman was unable to immediately clarify whether that meant ministerial approval or a vote in Parliament.

Fallon announced last week that Britain was deploying armed Reaper drones to the Middle East to conduct air strikes against ISIL in Iraq.

Parliament voted to approve air strikes against ISIL in Iraq last month, after a request from the Iraqi government, but Britain isn't conducting air strikes in Syria. It has previously said such strikes would require fresh parliamentary approval.