WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama attempted to rally allied commanders around his emerging strategy to defeat Islamic State militants on Tuesday, as the US-led air armada stepped up its raids in Syria.
Coalition jets carried out two dozen strikes to relieve pressure on Kobane, but Obama admitted to deep concern about the Syrian border town’s fate and he warned of a long campaign ahead.
In Washington, the president and the US military’s top officer General Martin Dempsey met senior commanders from more than 20 Western and Arab allies involved in the campaign.
“One of the things that has emerged from the discussions, both before I came and during my visit here, is that this is going to be a long-term campaign,” Obama warned.
“There are not quick fixes involved. We’re still at the early stages,” he said, explaining that efforts were focused on breaking the siege of Kobane and on halting the IS advance in western Iraq.
“As with any military effort, there will be days of progress and there are going to be periods of setback, but our coalition is united behind this long-term effort,” he added.
The military meeting, at an airbase outside Washington, came after allied warplanes had carried out its latest raids: 21 strikes over two days around Kobane, a Kurdish town on Syria’s border with Turkey.
The bombing was designed to halt an IS offensive which has seen radical militants push into the town, threatening a massacre under the noses of the Turkish troops and world media watching from the border.
A Syrian exile rights group reported that the latest strikes had at least saved Kobane from “falling entirely into the militants’ hands,” but Obama admitted he was still worried.
“At this point we’re also focused on the fighting that is taking place in Iraq’s Anbar province, and we’re deeply concerned about the situation in and around the Syrian town of Kobane,” Obama said.
IS fighters are now in almost complete control of Sunni-majority Anbar, Iraq’s largest province, and are closing in on the western outskirts of Baghdad, headquarters of the Shiite-led government.
The talks marked the first time high-ranking officers from so many nations have come together since the US-led coalition was formed in September and which now, on paper, includes about 60 countries.
Turkey, which has faced a three-decade Kurdish insurgency, has tightened security of its porous Syrian border after the fighting in Kobane sparked the exodus of 200,000 refugees.
But it remains a cautious ally. Turkey’s troops have not intervened in Kobane despite being only a few hundred yards from the fighting, and it has yet to allow US jets to mount attacks from its territory.
France’s President Francois Hollande urged the West’s NATO ally to open the border to allow aid to reach Kurdish fighters mounting a desperate defence of the town, which “could fall at any moment.”
And US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Ankara had at least allowed the US-led coalition use of “certain facilities” while agreeing to host and train Syrian fighters opposed to the Islamic State group.