BEIRUT, Lebanon – Syrian Kurdish forces have set their sights on taking back from jihadists Tal Abyad, another strategic town on the border with Turkey, after recapturing Kobani, a monitor said Monday.
Tal Abyad, located about 65 kilometers (40 miles) east of Kobani, is an Arab and Kurd town in the Syrian province of Raqqa used by jihadists of the Islamic State group to cross into Turkey.
The Sunni extremist IS seized Tal Abyad from Kurdish and rebel combatants who have been fighting to oust the regime of Syria’s President Bashar Assad since 2011.
After four months of fierce fighting, the Kurds and rebels recaptured Kobani in January, and they have since also reclaimed a third of the villages in the area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The next battle after Kobani is Tal Abyad,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Britain-based monitoring group, said on Monday.
“The Kurds and a Raqqa revolutionary brigade arrived on Monday at the edge of Raqqa province.”
An activist in Raqqa said the battle for villages around Tal Abyad had already begun, forcing people to flee across the border into Turkey.
“Tal Abyad is so important to IS that it has dug tunnels in the area and built fortifications on the town’s outskirts,” said the activist who identified himself as Nael Mustafa.
“The battle will take a long time, but it’s a start.”
On another front, further west in the province of Aleppo, “IS sent reinforcements to protect its strongholds of Minbej and Jarabulus which could also be a target for the Kurdish fighters,” said Abdel Rahman.
IS has taken advantage of the Syrian civil war and instability in Iraq to seize chunks of territory in the two countries, where it has committed atrocities that the UN has denounced as crimes against humanity.
A US-led coalition which includes Arab and other Western countries, has targeted its positions with air strikes since September.