ISTANBUL: American-led forces have sharply intensified air strikes in the past two days against Islamic State fighters threatening Kurds on Syria’s Turkish border after the jihadists’ advance began to destabilize Turkey.
The coalition had conducted 21 attacks on the militants near the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani over Monday and Tuesday and appeared to have slowed Islamic State advances there, the US military said, but cautioned the situation remained fluid.
US President Barack Obama voiced deep concern on Tuesday about the situation in Kobani as well as in Iraq’s Anbar province, which US troops fought to secure during the Iraq war and is now at risk of being seized by Islamic State militants.
“Coalition air strikes will continue in both of these areas,” Obama told military leaders from coalition partners including Turkey, Arab states and Western allies during a meeting outside Washington.
The fight against Islamic State will be among the items on the agenda when Obama holds a video conference on Wednesday with British, French, German and Italian leaders, the White House said.
War on the militants in Syria is threatening to unravel a delicate peace in neighboring Turkey where Kurds are furious with Ankara over its refusal to help protect their kin in Syria.
The plight of the Syrian Kurds in Kobani provoked riots among Turkey’s 15 million Kurds last week in which at least 35 people were killed.
Turkish warplanes were reported to have attacked Kurdish rebel targets in southeast Turkey after the army said it had been attacked by the banned PKK Kurdish militant group, risking reigniting a three-decade conflict that killed 40,000 people before a ceasefire was declared two years ago.
Kurds inside Kobani said the US-led strikes on Islamic State had helped, but that the militants, who have besieged the town for weeks, were still on the attack.
“Today there were air strikes throughout the day, which is a first. And sometimes we saw one plane carrying out two strikes, dropping two bombs at a time,” said Abdulrahman Gok, a journalist with a local Kurdish paper who is inside the town.
“The strikes are still continuing,” he said by telephone, as an explosion sounded in the background.
“In the afternoon, Islamic State intensified its shelling of the town,” he said. “The fact that they’re not conducting face-to-face, close-distance fight but instead shelling the town from afar is evidence that they have been pushed back a bit.”
Asya Abdullah, co-chair of the dominant Kurdish political party in Syria, PYD, said the latest air strikes had been “extremely helpful”. “They are hitting Islamic State targets hard and because of those strikes we were able to push back a little. They are still shelling the city center.”
It was the largest number of air strikes on Kobani since the US-led campaign in Syria began last month, the Pentagon said. The White House said the impact was constrained by the absence of forces on the ground but that evidence so far showed its strategy was succeeding.