Tuesday 26 September 2017

US planes hit IS targets in Syria

Kurdish women have joined the fight against Islamic State on the Syrian border (AP)
Kurdish women have joined the fight against Islamic State on the Syrian border (AP)

US-led coalition warplanes have struck Islamic State fighters in Syria, attacking a town near the Turkish border for the first time as well as positions in the country's east.

The Islamic State group's assault on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani has sent more than 100,000 refugees streaming across the border into Turkey in recent days as Kurdish forces from Iraq and Turkey have raced to the front lines to defend the town.

Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, said the strikes targeted Islamic State positions near Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, destroying two tanks. He said the jihadi fighters later shelled the town, wounding a number of civilians.

The United States and five Arab allies launched an aerial campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria early on Tuesday with the aim of rolling back and ultimately crushing the extremist group, which has created a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border.

Along the way, the militants have massacred captured Syrian and Iraqi troops, terrorised minorities in both countries and beheaded two American journalists and a British aid worker.

The latest air strikes came as Syria's foreign minister Walid al-Moallem told the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV that air strikes alone "will not be able to wipe out" the Islamic State group.

Speaking from New York where he is attending the UN General Assembly, Mr al-Moallem said that the US should work with Damascus if it wants to win the war.

"They must know the importance of coordination with the people of this country because they know what goes on there," Mr al-Moallem said.

The US has ruled out any coordination with President Bashar Assad's government, which is at war with the Islamic State group as well as Western-backed rebels.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the coalition's strikes near Kobani came amid heavy fighting between the Islamic State group and members of the Kurdish force known as the People's Protection Units, or YPK.

The Britain-based group, which relies on activists inside Syria, had no immediate word on casualties from the strikes. The Observatory reported yesterday that 13 civilians have been killed by the strikes since they began.

Kurdish fighter Majid Goran told the Associated Press by telephone from Kobani that two bombs were dropped over the nearby village of Ali Shar but that the positions they struck were empty.

Turkey's Dogan news agency reported that the sound of heavy fighting could be heard from the Turkish border village of Karaca. The agency said Kurdish forces retook some positions they had lost to the Islamic militants a few days ago.

Dozens of people wounded in the fighting arrived in Turkey for treatment, it said.

Another Kurdish fighter, Ismet Sheikh Hasan, said the Turkish military retaliated after stray shells landed on Turkish territory, firing in the Ali Shar region. He said the Turkish action left Kurdish fighters in the middle of the crossfire.

He said that yesterday the Islamic militants were attacking the Kobani area from the east with tanks and artillery, advancing on Ali Shar and Haja. He said some 20 people were killed, including Kurdish fighters and civilians, while another 50 people were wounded.

The fighting around Kobani sparked one of the largest single outflows of refugees since Syria's conflict began more than three years ago. The Syrian Kurdish forces have long been one of the most effective fighting units battling the Islamic State, but the tide has turned in recent weeks as the Islamic militants have attacked with heavy weapons likely looted from neighbouring Iraq.

The Observatory said other coalition air strikes targeted Islamic State compounds in the central province of Homs and the northern regions of Raqqa and Aleppo. The group said 31 explosions were heard in the city of Raqqa, the group's de facto capital, and its suburbs.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said the strikes in the east hit the province of Deir el-Zour as well as Raqqa. The LCC also said the coalition targeted grain silos west of Deir el-Zour city.

Max Blumenfeld, a spokesman for US Central Command, said the U.S. air strikes "don't target food or anything else than can be used by the civilian population".

But he said that until the military reviews images from planes that participated in the strikes, he could not rule out that silos were hit.

He said the air strikes are aimed at specific Islamic State targets such as command and control centres, transportation and logistics, and oil refineries, "but not food that could have an impact upon the civilian population".

"Our targets are structures that combatants would use," he said.

Mr Blumenfeld later said the US did target what he called an Islamic State grain storage facility on Tuesday near Boukamal, a town close to the Iraqi border which was seized by the Islamic State group earlier this year.

Press Association

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