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In spite of airstrikes, Islamic State closes in on Syrian town

KPG fighters say Turkey fears the result of a Kurdish victory over the Islamic State
Refugees from Kobane take shelter from rain after crossing the border into Turkey on Friday (AFP)
By
Tom Finn

Idris Nassan was making tea in his office late on Thursday night when he heard that a group of Islamic State fighters had overrun his village.

The 43-year-old government official in Kobane, a Kurdish Syrian town close to the border with Turkey under siege by Islamic State militants, recalls the phone call he received from a fighter in the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) on the city’s outskirts as his men came under attack.

“There are fifty or more of them, they have a tank. We are under heavy fire now. Send backup or the city will fall,” the fighter told Nassan.

By Friday morning, the KPG had repelled the Islamic State advance but not before the group seized and looted Harajn, Nassan’s village, 4km southeast of Kobane.

It was the closest the Islamic State had come to seizing Kobane since they launched an offensive on the city over two weeks ago, Nassan said, while underscoring growing concerns amongst Syrian Kurds that the US-led airstrike,s launched last week by a coalition of foreign powers, are doing little to hinder the militants.

“The airstrikes only target IS positions far from here – in Raqqa and Jarabloss - but that has no effect of the units attacking us in Kobane,” said Nassan. “The US has the sophisticated equipment to see the IS positions here yet they have not bombed them. We’ve been besieged and they’ve done nothing,” he said.

Speaking to Middle East Eye from his office in Kobane, Nassan said he could hear explosions and see a column of black smoke rising in the distance from an Islamic State tank he said the KPG forces had struck early on Friday.

Nassan also said that he had heard jets roaring overhead but did not see any airstrikes. The information appears to contradict Pentagon claims that the coalition has been hitting the suburbs of Kobane in its efforts to drive out IS.

“Every day the Islamic State get closer. They say my village is full of bodies now, the dead just left lying there in the street,” said Nassan.

Omar Alosh, a spokesperson for the Kobane province, said that Turkey - who on Thursday authorised military action against the Islamic State group - had, by not policing its borders, effectively turned a blind eye to IS.

“Jarablus, Bab Aisha, Bab Arab Izza, these are the three border towns where [Islamic State] recruits have been entering from Turkey to Syria, they’ve been crossing for months now,” said Alosh.

According to Alosh, Turkey, a NATO member, is less worried about the Islamic State, who have had a presence along its border for more than a year, than it is about the Kurds in Syria.

“Turkey is worried that if we defeat IS, we may declare independence and that might embolden Kurds in Turkey to do the same,” said Alosh.

“This is not the case. We are Syrians. We are part of the Syrian Republic, we just want to protect our villages and our towns here.”

Turkey, however, insists that it is taking the threat seriously. On Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey would not let Kobane fall, stressing that "we have opened our arms to our brothers from Kobane." 

Kobane and the surrounding area have been under attack since mid-September, with militants capturing dozens of nearby Kurdish villages. The assault has forced some 160,000 largely Syrian Kurds to flee across the frontier in recent days.

(Mamoon Alabbasi contributed to this report)