Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants control more than a third of the Syrian border town of Kobani, Agence France-Presse reported a monitoring group as saying on Thursday, after three weeks of fighting Kurdish forces backed by U.S.-led air strikes.
“ISIS control more than a third of Kobani. All eastern areas, a small part of the north east and an area in the south east,” head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, said by telephone.
Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition on Thursday carried out two fresh strikes on ISIS jihadist positions in Kobane, said an AFP reporter just across the border in Turkey.
The strikes targeted the city’s southwest, which is under control of Kurdish forces who have been fighting off a three-week ISIS advance on the strategic town.
U.S. says air power not enough
While the U.S. and coalition airstrikes have forced some ISIS militants out of the Syrian border town of Kobani, air power is not enough to save the city, the Associated Press reported a Pentagon spokesman as saying on Wednesday.
“Kobani could be taken. We recognize that,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters.
“We’re doing everything we can from the air to try to halt the momentum of ISIS against that town,” he added. “Air power is not going to be alone enough to save that city.”
No plans for boots on ground
Pentagon officials are not planning to ask President Barack Obama to commit ground forces to the fight inside Syria, Kirby said.
“We all need to prepare ourselves for the reality that other towns and villages – and perhaps Kobani- will be taken by ISIS,” Kirby said, adding that the key to eventually defeating the militants is to train and enable indigenous ground forces.
The U.S. and partner countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have been bombing ISIS targets in Syria under Obama’s order to degrade and destroy the group. But administration officials have cautioned that the going will be slow.
“We don’t have a force inside Syria that we can cooperate with and work with,” Kirby said.
U.S. plans to train rebels
That is why the administration is planning to train and arm 5,000 moderate opposition Syrian fighters at sites elsewhere in the Middle East and then insert them back into Syria to take on ISIS forces, Kirby said.
There were airstrikes at six locations around Kobani on Tuesday, and others earlier this week. Kirby said there are mixed reports about how many ISIS militants pulled back from the town under pressure from the air.
In a statement Wednesday night, U.S. Central Command said it appeared that Kurdish militia continued to control most of the city and were holding out against the militants.
Obama was at the Pentagon on Wednesday to consult with military leaders on progress in the campaign to counter ISIS.
The office of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he will host a meeting Oct. 14 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland with his counterparts from about 20 of the countries that have joined the U.S. in combating ISIS.
Turkey’s involvement key
While Turkey maintains it does not want Kobani to fall, Turkish officials say they will not enter combat until they are assured that the U.S.-led coalition has a long-term strategy in Syria.
Turkey’s inaction despite its supposed participation in a coalition forged to crush the extremist group is frustrating Washington and its NATO allies, and reviving a rebellion by Turkish Kurds.
U.S. and NATO officials are traveling to Turkey on Thursday to press negotiations for more robust Turkish involvement in the coalition.
Turkey sees Assad as a greater nemesis on their border than even ISIS. Taking out the militants without a plan to fill the inevitable vacuum, they say, will lead to further chaos that will only strengthen Assad.
They want the U.S. to set up a no-fly zone and a humanitarian corridor, as well as ramp up assistance to Syrian rebels battling to overthrow Assad.