Mursitpinar (Turkey) (AFP) – Attacking Islamic State jihadists met firm Kurdish resistance Sunday in the Syrian battleground town of Kobane, but in Iraq they put government forces under strong pressure.
A roadside bomb killed the police chief in Anbar province, between Baghdad and the Syrian border, and Pentagon officials have voiced concern about the government s vulnerability to a renewed jihadist offensive.
Farther north, around Iraq s key oil refinery town of Baiji, the army and Sunni Arab tribal allies came under fresh IS attack, prompting a first resupply operation by coalition aircraft.
In Kobane, a pall of black smoke hung over the strategic town as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported heavy jihadist losses.
IS poured in reinforcements and later fired at least 11 rocket-propelled grenades into the town centre, said the Britain-based monitoring group.
The Kurds managed to advance 50 metres (yards) towards their headquarters, two days after the jihadists captured it, but failed to deliver a knockout blow.
“They (IS) are sending fighters without much combat experience,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“They are attacking on multiple fronts but they keep being repulsed, then countering and being pushed back again.”
IS has earned worldwide infamy for committing atrocities — often videotaped and posted on the Internet — since it seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in lightning offensives earlier this year.
But it has also gained prestige among Islamist extremists that has helped it recruit thousands of foreign fighters, a reputation now on the line.
– A decisive battle –
“It s a decisive battle for them,” said Abdel Rahman.
“If they don t pull it off, it will damage their image among jihadists around the world.”
In Cairo, UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged action to prevent a “massacre” in Kobane.
The UN has warned that hundreds of mainly elderly civilians in the centre and thousands more on the outskirts all risk massacre if the jihadists sever the sole escape route to the border.
The US military said it and its Saudi and Emirati allies conducted four air strikes in Syria Sunday, all but one in Kobane.
Despite such raids, Pentagon officials have said there is a limit to what they can do without ground forces they can work with.
But the top US officer said American military advisers were likely to take a more direct role once Iraqi forces are ready to fight to retake the country s second city Mosul, which IS overran in June.
“My instinct at this point is that will require a different kind of advising and assisting because of the complexity of that fight,” General Martin Dempsey said on ABC s “This Week”.
Despite deep concern about the plight of Kobane in Syria, Washington has vowed to stick to its overall strategy of prioritising the Iraq campaign.
Speaking in Cairo at a Gaza donors reconstruction conference, US Secretary of State John Kerry called the IS offensive on Kobane a “tragedy”, but it “does not define the strategy of the coalition with respect to Daesh”, the Arabic acronym for IS.
Kerry also said the Iraqis themselves will have to win back their country.