MURSITPINAR, Turkey (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — The U.S.-led coalition pounded Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) positions Thursday in the Syrian border town of Kobani in some of the most intensive strikes in the air campaign so far, a Kurdish official and an activist group said.
But despite the airstrikes overnight and into Thursday morning, ISIS fighters managed to capture a police station in the east of the town, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Observatory, a group that tracks Syria’s civil war through a network of activists on the ground, said the militants controlled more than third of the strategic border town.
However, Idriss Nassan, an official with the town’s Kurdish government, denied the militants were in control of that much territory on Thursday.
He confirmed that the Kobani police station was taken by ISIS but said it was later destroyed in an airstrike. He said the Kurdish fighters managed to regain several other town areas on Thursday.
“I can confirm that they don’t control a third of the city. There is only a small part of Kobani under the control of Daesh,” said Nassan, using the Arabic acronym to refer to ISIS.
The U.S. military has made it clear that airstrikes alone will not keep ISIS from seizing Kobani, and while President Barack Obama has ruled out a ground operation against the group, CBS News’ Holly Williams says Washington does want Turkey — a powerful, predominantly Muslim country on Syria’s border — to play an active role in the coalition against the extremists.
Williams says the Turkish parliament voted last month to allow military operations inside Syria, and Turkey’s government wants help to establish a secure zone in northern Syria to stop the flow of refugees across the border.
But the country’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, said Thursday that Turkey cannot launch a ground operation to save Kobani by itself.
Williams says that if they capture the border town, it could give ISIS greater access to smuggled fighters and weapons.
Adding to the complexities of the fight, U.S. officials have told The Associated Press they’re worried that any Turkish military action against ISIS militants could also target the Kurdish fighters who are the last line of ground defense between the extremists and Kobani.
The Kurdish fighters are linked to a separatist guerrilla movement that is fiercely opposed by the Turks, and which has also been designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.
ISIS launched its offensive on Kobani in mid-September, capturing several nearby Kurdish villages and bringing Syria’s civil war yet again to Turkey’s doorstep. It has since steadily been tightening its noose around the town.
The fighting has forced at least 200,000 town residents and villagers from the area to flee across the frontier into Turkey. The Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman, said that more than 500 people had been killed in and around Kobani since the fighting there began.
Both Nassan and the Observatory said more than 20 airstrikes had been conducted in the area since Wednesday afternoon.
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