Skip to main content

Syrian Kurds withstand IS attack on border town: monitor

Kurdish fighters have managed to stall the large-scale IS assault close to the Turkish border

Kurdish fighters have managed to stall a large-scale assault by Islamic State (IS) militants in northern Syria, a monitoring group said.

IS launched the drive on the strategic border town of Ras al-Ain in northeast Syria which has a border crossing with Ceylanpinar in Turkey on Wednesday, prompting Turkey to close the border in the area.

IS, however, were able to gain ground in the nearby town of Tal Tamr, about 20 kilometres south of the border.

"The Islamic State took over the village of Tal Nasri, so they are now only 500 meters (yards) from Tal Tamr," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"This is all one operation by the Islamic State. Tal Tamr and Ras al-Ain are the same front."

Dozens of fighters on both sides were killed, the UK-based monitoring group said.

Both towns are seen to straddle key supply routes that would improve access between IS’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa and its Iraq’s stronghold of Mosul. The border towns are located some 100 kilometres east of Kobane, the Syrian Kurdish city that endured a months-long siege by IS that was eventually broken earlier this year.

While IS has controlled vast swathes of Syria and Iraq for months, in effect brandishing the border obsolete, bombardment by the US-led anti-IS coalition has managed to cut supply and communication lines in recent days, US command has said.

IS is at present coming under pressure in Iraq, where Iraqi Kurdish fighters have made gains in the north, and forces loyal to the Baghdad government gains further south in Tikrit, where thousands of  Iraqi troops and militiamen are currently laying siege to embattled IS militants.

After making major gains in and around the city on Wednesday, commanders were confident that Baghdad's biggest victory yet against IS was only a matter of time.

"Now we are moving to the second phase of our plan," Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi told reporters in Salaheddin province, of which Tikrit is the capital.

"We are very keen for our losses to be as low as possible. Time is on our side, we have the initiative," he said on the 11th day of the offensive.

None of the fighting forces involved has provided casualty figures since the start of the operation to wrest back Tikrit, the largest since IS captured the city nine months ago.

However, dozens of bodies are being driven south to Baghdad and the Shiite holy city of Najaf almost every day, with IS still managing to inflict serious damage with suicide car bombs, booby traps and snipers.

All towns and villages on the eastern bank of the Tigris were under the control of anti-IS forces Thursday, including al-Alam, Albu Ajil and Ad-Dawr, AFP reported, although Tikrit itself (which lies on the western bank) remains contested with IS still in control of a western district and some outlying villages.  

It is unclear how many civilians remain trapped in the town, although some 30,000 are thought to have fled during the first few days of the Baghdad offensive.

Although moderate gains have been made in some areas, IS still controls significant swathes of territory to the West, and is in almost total control of the troubled Anbar province.  

On Wednesday, the group launched a large-scale attack on the government-held heart of Anbar's capital Ramadi, using at least 12 simultaneous car bombs.

Seventeen people were killed, mostly members of the security forces, in addition to a minimum of seven suicide bombers.

An Australian teenager – nicknamed Jihadi Jake by the media - was reportedly one of the bombers.  Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called the news "absolutely horrific".

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.