DAMASCUS: Islamic State fighters have closed in to within a few kilometres of a key Kurdish town on Syria’s border with Turkey, as Ankara mulls joining the anti-IS coalition. NATO member Turkey on Monday (Sep 29) deployed tanks to reinforce its side of the border and said parliament would this week debate joining the international coalition against the militants operating on the country’s doorstep.
The coalition carried out new raids against IS positions, but the militants still managed to advance within five kilometres of the strategic Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane to the Kurds, a monitor said.
It was the closest the militants had come to the town since they began advancing towards it nearly two weeks ago, sending tens of thousands of mostly Kurdish refugees across the border, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. As they advanced, the militants fired at least 15 rockets at the town centre, killing at least one person. Other rockets hit the border zone.
Across the frontier, Turkey’s army was seen deploying tanks and armoured vehicles to the town of Mursitpinar, after stray bullets hit Turkish villages and at least three mortar shells crashed nearby. In Ankara, parliamentary speaker Cemil Cicek was reported to have said that motions for discussions on Turkey joining the coalition could land with lawmakers on Tuesday. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said they would be debated on Thursday.
Turkey had refused to join the coalition while dozens of its citizens – including diplomats and children – were being held by IS after being abducted in Iraq. After they were freed, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s position had changed, signalling a more robust stance towards the group. “We will hold discussions with our relevant institutions this week. We will definitely be where we need to be,” Erdogan said on Sunday. “We cannot stay out of this.”
STRIKES IN NORTH SYRIA
The coalition has been carrying out strikes against militants inside Syria for nearly a week, with US and Arab aircraft taking part in the raids. Central Command, which oversees American forces in the Middle East, said the United States and its allies struck eight targets in Syria and three in Iraq on Sunday night and on Monday.
In the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, strikes destroyed an IS armed vehicle and an anti-aircraft artillery transporter, it said. In Raqa, the de facto headquarters of IS, two strikes hit militant compounds near the provincial capital, while near Minbej two other raids struck an IS training camp and vehicles in a staging area adjacent to a grain storage facility used by the jihadists as a logistics hub.
The statement said initial indications were that the attacks were successful. But the Observatory, which reported the same strikes, said civilians were believed to have been killed in the raid on the grain storage facility.
The United State began its aerial campaign in Syria on Sep 23, expanding strikes that began in August against IS positions in Iraq. US aircraft have flown roughly 4,100 sorties in the air war against the militants in Iraq and Syria since August, including surveillance flights, refuelling runs and bombing raids, a military officer said on Monday. In addition, Arab coalition partners have undertaken about 40 flights in the operation in Syria, the officer told AFP.
So far, the strikes have killed at least 211 IS militants and 22 civilians in Syria, according to the Britain-based Observatory. The coalition has attracted dozens of countries, though only a handful of Arab allies – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan – are participating in the strikes on Syrian soil.
On Monday at the UN General Assembly, Syria’s foreign minister hit out at countries which had supported Islamists, in an implicit attack on Gulf nations. Combating the Islamist threat “is certainly possible through military strikes,” said Walid Muallem. “But most importantly, to do so through stopping states that arm, support, train, fund and smuggle those terrorist groups.”
US UNDERESTIMATED IS: OBAMA
In an interview with CBS News, President Barack Obama acknowledged his administration had underestimated the opportunity that the three-and-a-half year-old Syrian civil war would provide for militants to regroup and stage a sudden comeback. “I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said.
He also admitted Washington had placed too much faith in Iraqi security forces trained and supplied by the United States, which collapsed in the face of a lightning offensive led by IS in June.
Cultural experts gathered at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters warned on Monday that IS militants were also destroying age-old heritage sites and looting others to sell valued artefacts on the black market.