MURSITPINAR, Turkey (AFP) – Advancing Islamic State fighters seized control of a third of the Syrian border town of Kobane Thursday, as Turkey rejected sending in troops on its own against the extremists.
Despite intensified US-led air strikes, IS militants captured more ground in overnight fighting that left dozens dead, as calls grew for ground action to support Kobane’s beleaguered Kurdish defenders.
But after talks with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara could not be expected to act alone.
“It’s not realistic to expect that Turkey will lead a ground operation on its own,” he said.
Ankara has come under pressure over its inaction as the extremists advance on its doorstep, with protests in Kurdish areas in Turkey sparking clashes that claimed at least 22 lives and forced authorities to declare a curfew in six provinces.
Kobane, where Kurdish militia have been holding out against a three-week siege by the extremists, has become a crucial battleground in the fight against IS.
With tens of thousands of refugees, local residents and the global media gathered just across the border in Turkey, its conquest would be a highly visible symbolic victory for the extremists.
The US-led coalition carried out at least four fresh strikes early Thursday, an AFP reporter across the border in Turkey said, as it continued a flurry of bombing raids on IS positions in and around the town.
At least 20 coalition bombing raids have hit near Kobane since Tuesday.
“Air strikes are not helpful alone. We need heavy weaponry and tanks to support a ground operation,” 37-year-old Azad, a refugee from Kobane, told AFP on the border.
“If weapons are sent, civilians would also join Kurdish fighters to defend the town,” he added.
Street battles have been raging in Kobane since the extremists breached its defences earlier this week.
IS fighters pulled out of some areas on Wednesday but have since renewed their offensive and seized more ground, a monitoring group said.
“Despite fierce resistance from the Kurdish forces, IS advanced during the night and controls more than a third of Kobane,” Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.
The Observatory said IS fighters were also closing on an area with several official buildings and the command of the Kurdish forces.
It said at least 42 IS extremists were killed in the battle on Wednesday, including 23 in coalition air strikes, as well as 15 Kurdish fighters.
Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, would be a major prize for the extremists, giving them unbroken control of a long stretch of Syria’s border with Turkey.
The extremist group has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” and committing widespread atrocities.