Coalition air strikes may not be enough to save the Syrian-Turkish border town of Kobane from falling into the hands of Isil extremists, the Pentagon admitted last night, as battles continued to rage for control of the town.
The Pentagon said that it had conducted six air strikes around Kobane yesterday which had been "useful" in pushing back the jihadis some of whom the Pentagon said had withdrawn, without providing specific numbers.
"We're doing everything we can from the air to try to halt the momentum of Isil against that town, but that air power is not going to be enough alone to save that city," said Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. Ultimately, "capable" ground forces - rebel fighters in Syria and Iraqi government troops - would have to defeat the jihadists.
Facing growing questions over why the coalition was not doing more to save Kobane, both the Pentagon and the State Department said it was taking a "regional" and "strategic" approach to the fate of the town, rather than getting "fixated" on one small place.
"As horrific as it is to watch in real time what is happening in Kobane... you have to step back and understand the strategic objective," said John Kerry, the US secretary of state, at a news conference in Washington.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon press secretary also accepted that the strategically vital town could fall under the control of the extremists.
"Kobane could be taken. We recognise that," Mr Kirby told reporters.
Mr Kirby added that Pentagon officials are not planning to ask US President Barack Obama to commit ground forces to the fight inside Syria.
In the frankest briefing yet on the military outlook, he added: "We all need to prepare ourselves for the reality that other towns and villages - and perhaps Kobane will be taken by Isil."
Mr Kirby also said that the key to eventually defeating the militants is to train and enable indigenous ground forces.
"We don't have a force inside Syria that we can cooperate with and work with," Mr Kirby said.
In London, Philip Hammond, the British Foreign Secretary, said: "Notwithstanding the crisis in Kobane, the original targets of our efforts have been the command and control centres, the infrastructure.
"We are trying to deprive (Isil) of the overall ability to wage this, not just in Kobane but throughout Syria and into Iraq."
The fate of Kobane has highlighted divisions between the US and Turkey over the objectives of the mission, with the US and Britain focused on defeating Isil first, while Turkey has said it will only send in troops if there is a coordinated international effort to oust Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.
In a further sign of strains between the coalition partners, Francois Hollande, the French president, yesterday backed Turkish calls for an internationally supported "buffer zone" on its border with Syria to give a haven to refugees fleeing the Isil advance.
However, both Mr Kerry and Mr Hammond gave a much more cautious reaction to the Turkish proposal that the Pentagon said was not part of its current military planning. "The buffer zone is an idea that's been out there. It's worth looking at very, very closely," said Mr Kerry, before cautioning that the idea needed a "thorough examination" before any steps were taken to implement it.
Mr Hammond added: "The idea of a buffer zone is one that has been floated.
"We have to explore with our other allies and partners what is meant by a buffer zone and how such a concept would work, but I certainly wouldn't want to rule it out at this stage."
Yesterday, Kobane remained under intense attack from Isil, within sight of Turkish tanks that have so far done nothing to help.
US officials were quoted voicing impatience with the Turks for refusing to join the coalition against Isil.
Last week, US Vice President Joe Biden was forced to apologise after Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took umbrage at comments he made at Harvard University, in which he blamed Turkey's open borders for allowing Isil to bring in recruits.
Turkey says it could join but only if Washington agrees to use force against Syrian President Assad as well as the Sunni Muslim jihadists fighting him in a three-year-old civil war.
THE fall of Kobane may mark an irrevocable breach between Turks and Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Many of the 30 million Kurds in the region believe that, if Kobane falls, it will be because Turkey refused to help its defenders as they faced repeated Isil assaults and cut them off from reinforcements and fresh supplies of weapons and ammunition. "We are besieged by Turkey, it is not something new," said Ismet Sheikh Hassan, the Kurdish Defence Chief for the Kobane region.