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Airstrikes target IS militant advance on key Kurdish town

AFP/Aamaq - An image grab from an Islamist propaganda video on Youtube purportedly shows fighting near Ain al-Arab

US-led coalition forces launched at least five airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) group militants advancing on the Syrian Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane by the Kurds, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday.

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US-led forces carried out at least five air strikes on Wednesday against Islamic State group fighters attacking the Syrian Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab, a monitoring group said.

The strikes hit IS positions south and southeast of the town, known as Kobane by the Kurds, which the jihadists have been battling to take for more than two weeks, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

At least eight jihadists were killed in a strike on an IS tank east of the town, said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria for its reports.

"Kurdish fighters on the front lines saw the bodies literally being thrown into the air" by the force of the blast, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Despite the air strikes, the jihadists continued to shell the town on the Turkish border from positions as little as three kilometres (two miles) away.

Fierce fighting overnight killed nine Kurdish fighters and one IS militant, the Observatory said.

The new round of airstrikes came as France announced that it is deploying an anti-aircraft frigate and three more Rafale fighter jets to the Persian Gulf region to boost its ability to carry out airstrikes against militant targets in Iraq. The defense ministry said the French jets will join six others already based outside Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Acting on a request from Iraqi authorities, France has so far conducted two sets of airstrikes against the Islamic State group since September 19.

Kurds outnumbered and outgunned

The group also reported that at least 10 people had been executed by the group on Tuesday, including a civilian and three Kurdish female fighters, who were beheaded.

A Kurdish male fighter was beheaded along with the women, and another five fighters were also executed in a separate incident in the area, the Observatory said.

Abdel Rahman said the Kurdish fighters were vastly outnumbered and outgunned in the fight for Ain al-Arab.

"Though they are fewer in number and are militarily worse equipped, the Kurdish fighters refuse to withdraw and are fiercely defending their town," he said.

"For them, it is a matter of life or death."

Hundreds of Kurdish fighters are facing thousands of jihadists armed with tanks, heavy artillery and 220mm multiple rocket launchers.

"The Kurds are armed with Kalashnikov rifles, Soviet-era DShK machineguns and RPGs," Abdel Rahman said.

Local Kurdish leader Anwar Muslim acknowledged the balance of forces favoured the jihadists.

"IS have brought in the weapons they seized from Mosul (Iraq's second city) and Tabqa airbase (in Syria's Raqa province)," he said.

IS seized large stocks of heavy weaponry from fleeing Iraqi troops when they captured Mosul in June. They took more when they overran the Syrian army garrison at Tabqa in late August.

Kurdish leaders have appealed to the US-led coalition battling IS to provide air support to the town's defenders.

"We are trying to push them (the jihadists) back with the help of the coalition's strikes. They are our common enemy," said Muslim.

The jihadist offensive has sparked an exodus of at least 160,000 mainly Kurdish refugees into Turkey.

"There are still thousands of civilians inside the town," said the Observatory's Abdel Rahman.

Ain al-Arab would be a key prize for IS, giving it unbroken control of a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

 

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