rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following an airstrike by the
U.S.-led coalition in November. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)
BEIRUT – Kurdish fighters
backed by intense U.S.-led airstrikes pushed the Islamic State group
entirely out of a key Syrian town on Monday, marking a major defeat for
the extremists whose hopes for an easy victory when they pushed into
Kobani last year dissolved into a bloody, costly and months-long siege.
As their victory neared, the Kurdish troops earlier in the day raised
their flag on a hill overlooking the town just across the border with
Turkey, replacing the Islamic State group's black banner.
The battlefield success is a major conquest both for Syria's
embattled Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition, whose American coordinator
had predicted that the Islamic State group would "impale itself" on
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People's Protection Units (YPG) soldiers walk near the town entrance
circle heading to their strongholds in Kobani, Syria, in November. (AP) (The Associated Press)
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and
Kobani-based Syrian activist Farhad Shami said the Islamic State, also
known as ISIS or ISIL, had been fully expelled, with some sporadic
fighting on the ouster eastern edges of the town.
In September, Islamic State fighters began capturing some 300 Kurdish
villages near Kobani and thrust into the town itself, occupying nearly
half of it. Tens of thousands of refugees spilled across the border into
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shows an area controlled by the Islamic State group in November, past
the Qada Azadi roundabout, foreground, in Kobani, Syria. (AP)
By October, the IS group's control of Kobani was so widespread that
it even made a propaganda video from the town featuring a captive
British photojournalist, John Cantlie, to convey its message that
Islamic State fighters had pushed deep inside despite U.S.-led
Kobani, whose capture would have given the jihadi group control of a
border crossing with Turkey and opened direct lines between its
positions along the border, quickly became a centerpiece of the U.S.-led
air campaign in Syria. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared it
would be "morally very difficult" not to help Kobani.
The U.S.-led air assault began Sept. 23, with Kobani the target of
about a half-dozen airstrikes on average each day, and often more. More
than 80 percent of all coalition airstrikes in Syria have been in or
around the town. At one point in October, the U.S. air campaign dropped
bundles of weapons and medical supplies for Kurdish fighters -- a first
in the Syrian conflict.
Analysts, as well as Syrian and Kurdish activists, credit the
campaign and the arrival in October of heavily armed Kurdish peshmerga
fighters from Iraq, who neutralized the Islamic State group's artillery
advantage, for bringing key areas of the town under Kurdish control.
Idriss Nassan, a senior Kurdish official, said U.S.-led coalition
strikes became more intense in the past few days, helping Kurdish
fighters in their final push toward Islamic State group positions on the
southern and eastern edges of the town.
The U.S. Central Command said Monday that it had carried out 17
airstrikes near Kobani over the last 24 hours that struck Islamic State
group infrastructure and fighting positions.
Nassan said he was preparing to head into Kobani on Tuesday and expected the town to be fully free by then.