Islamic State redeploys troops to Syria-Turkey border following airstrikes
13 US-led strikes hit border town Albu Kamal near Iraq border and 5 strikes conducted west of the city of Kobani near the Turkey border.
Reuters /09.24.14, 14:00 / Israel News/Ynetnews
Islamic State has reinforced fighters who are battling Kurdish forces for control of a Syrian town at the border with Turkey in the last day, a redeployment triggered by US-led air strikes on the group elsewhere, a Kurdish military official said.
Earlier, US-led forces carried out at least 13 air strikes in Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria near the Iraqi border and five near the Turkish border overnight and on Wednesday, an organization that tracks the Syrian war said.
Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters the raids near the Syria-Iraq border had hit the border town of Albu Kamal and surrounding areas.
The raids near the Syria-Turkey border hit near an area that tens of thousands of Kurds have fled as the militant group advanced. Abdulrahman said the warplanes that carried out the raids around 30-35 km (19-22 miles) west of the city of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, had come from the direction of Turkey.
Ocalan Iso, deputy leader of the Kurdish forces defending the town of Kobani at the Turkish border, said more Islamic State fighters and tanks had arrived since the US-led coalition began air strikes on the group on Tuesday.
“The number of their fighters has increased, the number of their tanks has increased since the bombardment of Raqqa,” Iso told Reuters by telephone.
Islamic State-controlled territory in the city and province of Raqqa was hit in the air strikes on Tuesday. He said Islamic State forces had advanced to within 8 km (5 miles) from the southern periphery of Kobani, which is also known as Ayn al-Arab – closer than they had been at any stage.
Turkish officials from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s office told Reuters on Wednesday that neither Turkish air space nor a US airbase in the southern Turkish town of Incirlik have been used in US-led air strikes against Islamic State militants.
There was no other confirmation of air strikes in the area and Reuters could not independently verify the report.
Abdulrahman said it was not clear which country had carried out the strikes, although the planes were not believed to be from the Syrian air force, he said. Abdulrahman’s Observatory gathers its information from a network of sources across Syria.
Albu Kamal, on the main Euphrates River valley highway, is one of the most important border crossings between Iraq and Syria, along a frontier that Islamic State wants to erase after seizing territory both sides and declaring a caliphate.
It links Islamic State’s de facto capital Raqqa in Syria with strategic front lines in western Iraq and militant-held territory down the Euphrates to the western and southern outskirts of Baghdad.
Depriving Islamic State of the ability to cross the border freely in the Euphrates Valley could be an early strategic objective of the US-led coalition, which aims to defeat the group on both sides of the frontier.
Islamic State has exploited its ability to cross the border to score victories on both sides: fighters pouring in from Syria helped seize much of northern Iraq during a lightning advance in June, and weaponry they captured was then sent back to help the group secure more land in Syria.
The area around Albu Kamal has already been the focus of heavy bombing by US-led forces in the first day of their air campaign in eastern Syria. The Observatory said around 22 strikes hit the area on Tuesday.
“The people there, the activists, say they (the strikes) are probably the (international) coalition, not the regime,” Abdulrahman said, referring to the Syrian government. “The strength of the explosions are greater. Like yesterday.”
A militant Islamist fighter in the area said there had been at least nine strikes by “crusader forces” that had hit targets including in an industrial area.
A US-led alliance started air strikes on Islamic State in Syria on Tuesday. Islamic State, which has captured land in Syria and Iraq, launched an offensive against the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani last week, forcing more than 130,000 Syrian Kurds to flee.
A local official in central Kobani said he had not heard any air strikes close to the town overnight, but that fighting continued between Kurdish forces and Islamic State, which has been trying to consolidate its territory across northern Syria.
Idris Nassan, deputy minister for foreign affairs in the Kobani canton, said Islamic State remained around 15 km from the town in the east and west but had advanced in the south to within 10 km after heavy clashes with Kurdish forces.
“Now I hear the noise of mortars in the south,” he told Reuters by telephone. “Islamic State gathered heavy forces there. So did the YPG but Islamic State pushed them back.”
The YPG is the main Kurdish armed group.
Redur Xelil, spokesman for the YPG, said Islamic State was still pushing to take the town, despite the start of US-led air strikes against the group in Syria.
“They did not withdraw from any positions and the battles are still continuing at their most intense level in Kobani and also in Ras al-Ayn,” he said, referring to Syrian territory further east along the border