IS Nearly Pushed Out of Kobane

IS Nearly Pushed Out of KobaneIS Nearly Pushed Out of Kobane

The Islamic State militant group has nearly been pushed out of the Syrian border town of Kobane, activists and Kurdish officials said Monday, marking a major symbolic victory both for the Kurds.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and senior Kurdish official Idriss Nassan said IS had been nearly expelled, with some sporadic fighting on the eastern edges of the city near Turkey. “IS is on the verge of defeat,” said Nassan, speaking from Turkey near the Syrian border. “Their defenses have collapsed and its fighters have fled.”

In September, IS militants began capturing some 300 Kurdish villages near Kobane and thrust into the town itself, occupying nearly half of it. Tens of thousands of refugees spilled across the border into Turkey. By October, IS control of Kobane was so widespread that the group even made a propaganda video from the town featuring a captive British photojournalist, John Cantlie, to convey its message that IS fighters had pushed deep inside despite US-led airstrikes.

The town, whose capture would have given the group control of a border crossing with Turkey and open direct lines between its positions along the border, quickly became a centerpiece of the US-led air campaign in Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry declared it would be “morally very difficult” not to help Kobane.

The US-led air assault began September 23, with Kobane 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. Analysts, as well as Syrian and Kurdish activists, credit the air campaign and the arrival of heavily armed Kurdish peshmerga fighters from Iraq, who neutralized the IS artillery advantage, for bringing key areas of Kobane under Kurdish control. Nassan said US-led coalition strikes became more intense in the past few days, helping Kurdish fighters in their final push toward IS positions on the southern and eastern edges of the town. He said he was preparing to head into Kobane on Tuesday and expected the town to be fully free by then. Since mid-September, the battle for Kobane has killed some 1,600 people, including 1,075 IS members, 459 Kurdish fighters and 32 civilians, the Observatory reported earlier this month.

IS, increasingly under pressure, has carried out more than 35 suicide attacks in Kobane in recent weeks, activists say.