MURSITPINAR, Turkey (AFP) — Kurdish forces in the Syrian town of Kobani thwarted a new attempt by fighters from the Islamic State group Sunday to cut off the border with Turkey before Iraqi Kurdish reinforcements can deploy.
The pre-dawn assault marked the fourth straight day that the jihadists had attacked the Syrian side of the border crossing as the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters prepare to head for Kobani, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Kurdish forces, backed by US-led airstrikes, have been holding out for weeks against an IS offensive around Kobani which has become a high-profile symbol of efforts to stop the advance of the jihadists.
More than 800 people have been killed in ground fighting for Kobani since the IS offensive on the Syrian Kurdish enclave began on September 16, the Observatory said.
The jihadists have lost 481 dead, while 313 Kurds have been killed fighting to defend the area, said the Britain-based group, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.
The figures do not include IS losses to US-led air strikes, which the Pentagon has said run to “several hundred.”
Civilians accounted for 21 of the dead. The jihadist assault prompted nearly all of the enclave’s population to flee, with some 200,000 refugees streaming over the border into neighboring Turkey.
Last week, under heavy US pressure, Turkey unexpectedly announced that it would allow the peshmerga fighters to cross its territory to join the fight for Kobani.
The main Syrian Kurdish fighting force in the town has close links with the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey and Ankara had previously resisted calls to allow in reinforcements.
The peshmerga forces are “ready to go,” but they are not expected to deploy to Kobani before Monday at the earliest, Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported.
“Technical issues” concerning their transit through Turkey still had to be resolved, Rudaw said without elaborating.
The names of all of the fighters in the force have been submitted to both Ankara and Washington, it added.
The Democratic Union Party (PYD) which dominates Kobani agreed to the offer of the peshmerga troops.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan charged in comments published on Sunday that the “terror” group did not really want the peshmerga forces to deploy to Kobani for fear of seeing its influence diminished.
“The PYD does not want the peshmerga to come,” Erdogan said.
“They don’t want the peshmerga to come to Kobani and dominate it.
A new US-led air strike hit IS fighters in Kobani as the coalition kept up its air support for the town’s defenders, an AFP correspondent on the Turkish side of the border reported.
But the lion’s share of coalition strikes in recent days have been in neighboring Iraq as Washington has voiced mounting confidence that Kobani’s fall to the jihadists can be prevented following US arms drops earlier this month.
The US-led military coalition fighting IS launched 22 air strikes in Iraq and one in Syria on Friday and Saturday, the Pentagon said.
Eleven of the bombings in the heavy barrage targeted IS units, buildings, positions and vehicles near Iraq’s largest dam, north of IS-held second city Mosul.
The strikes helped Kurdish forces to retake the town of Zumar, on the shores of Mosul Dam’s huge reservoir, on Saturday after weeks of fighting with IS, a senior officer said.
“The PYD thinks its game will be spoiled if the peshmerga come. Their setup will be ruined.”
The PKK and its allies have long had difficult relations with the parties that control the Kurdish regional government and its peshmerga forces in northern Iraq.
By contrast Ankara has developed a good working relationship with the Iraqi Kurdish authorities.