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Peshmerga set to join Kobani battle within days

More than 500 militants killed in US-led airstrikes to protect town and in other parts of Syria since September 23, Britain-based monitoring group says.

MURSITPINAR, Turkey // The Kurdish regional government in Iraq plans to send some 150 peshmerga fighters to Kobani through Turkey over the next few days to support Syrian Kurds there defending against ISIL militants.

Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff for Kurdish regional president Massoud Barzani, said the fighters would take light weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, and would bring their weapons back with them once the operation was over.

“The fight in Kobani is very important to us,” he said on Thurday, a day after parliament in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region authorised the deployment of peshmerga forces to the northern Syrian border town.

“We are fighting the same enemy. These are also Kurdish people in Syria.”

Syrian Kurds in Kobani have held out against ISIL for weeks with the help of US-led airstrikes and air drops of weapons.

Activists said on Thursday that the airstrikes in Syria had so far killed more than 500 people, mainly Islamic militants.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said 553 people had been killed since the airstrikes began on September 23, including 32 civilians. The civilians included six children and five women.

The group said it had documented the deaths of 464 ISIL fighters, but the real number could be much higher. Another 57 fighters with the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front were killed in airstrikes on the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, the Observatory said.

The US military central command said on Thursday that 15 airstrikes were carried out in Iraq and Syria since Wednesday.

Four strikes destroyed an ISIL control centre and fighting positions in an area near Kobani that has often been targeted this month, and two more that knocked out oil tanks east of Deir Ezzor.

Airstrikes in Iraq near the vital Mosul Dam hit small ISIL units and destroyed a vehicle while another attack near Baiji took out a fighting position. Four strikes in the Fallujah area targeted a training facility, a larger ISIL unit and a building.

According to the Observatory, many of the ISIL fatalities from airstrikes in Syria have been in or near Kobani, the target of a massive offensive by the militants since mid-September.

ISIL fighters have captured dozens of surrounding Kurdish villages and forced more than 200,000 people to flee for safety in neighbouring Turkey.

Earlier this week, the US central command said its forces had conducted more than 135 airstrikes against ISIL in and around Kobani, killing hundreds of fighters.

“Combined with continued resistance to ISIL on the ground, indications are that these strikes have slowed ISIL advances into the city, killed hundreds of their fighters and destroyed or damaged scores of pieces of ISIL combat equipment and fighting positions,” it said.

Fighting flared again in Kobani on Thursday, with heavy machine gun fire heard from the town.

“The fighting has been ongoing since last night on the eastern and southern fronts. It is some of the longest clashes in Kobani,” said Farhad Shami, a Kurdish activist in the town.

He said ISIL launched an attack from three fronts late on Wednesday but failed to advance. Still he said that Kurdish fighters withdrew from the Tel Shair hill that overlooks parts of Kobani.

The Observatory said ISIL fighters captured the hill, closing in on the town from the west. It said they were also trying to advance from the eastern side of the town.

The hill was captured by the Kurds from ISIL fighters earlier this month.

Capturing Kobani would give the Islamic State group, which already rules a huge stretch of territory spanning the Syria-Iraq border, a direct link between its positions in the Syrian province of Aleppo and its stronghold of Raqqa, to the east. It would also give the group full control of a large stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border.

* Associated Press

Updated: October 23, 2014 04:00 AM

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