A US official rebuffed claims Wednesday that Washington should be doing more to stymie the advance of Islamic State fighters on the beleaguered Syrian border town of Kobani, saying the likely fall of the Kurdish city was of little concern.
The unnamed official, speaking to CNN, maintained the Obama administration’s main focus centered on the jihadists’ strategic gains in Iraq.
The official added that the US believed the town would fall into the hands of the Islamic State.
The Kurdish militiamen defending Kobani received some support overnight and Tuesday from the American-led coalition, which carried out six airstrikes against Islamic State operatives around the town, destroying four armed vehicles, damaging a tank and killing fighters, the US military said.
Rather than protecting specific cities or areas, the official said, the US was attempting in its military campaign to curtail the Islamic State’s ability to function as a terror group. He added that airstrikes in Syria had targeted the Islamic State’s senior leadership, oil refineries and infrastructure, according to CNN.
Capturing Kobani would give the Islamic State group, which already rules a huge stretch of territory spanning the Syria-Iraq border, a direct link between its positions in the Syrian province of Aleppo and its stronghold of Raqqa, to the east. It would also give the group full control of a large stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border.
The US-led coalition has conducted airstrikes over the past two weeks near Kobani in a bid to help Kurdish forces defend the town. But the number has been limited, and Kurds have appealed for more help in the fight.
Syria’s Kurds have struggled to gain the sort of Western backing that their brethren in Iraq enjoy, and the aerial campaign around Kobani has been far more limited than the airstrikes against Islamic State fighters attacking Iraqi Kurdish areas. The US and its allies also have not agreed to arm Syrian Kurds like they have Iraqi Kurds.
Kurdish forces managed to push back Islamic State militants from some neighborhoods on the eastern edges of Kobani Tuesday, hours after the extremists stormed into the areas, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Still, two black jihadi flags fluttered from a building and a small hill on the eastern outskirts.
Fighting also raged Tuesday at the southwestern entrance to town, where the militants have seized control of a few buildings, including a hospital, said Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman.
The new UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called for an urgent international response to the Islamic State group’s assault on Kobani, saying the global community can’t sustain another city falling to the extremist group.
“The world, all of us, will regret deeply if ISIS is able to take over a city which has defended itself with courage but is close to not being able to do so. We need to act now,” Mistura said, using an alternate name for the Islamic State group.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that US Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken with Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu twice since Monday to discuss the situation in Kobani and Turkey’s broader role in the coalition.
The United States and five Arab allies launched an aerial campaign against the Islamic State in Syria on September 23 with the aim of rolling back and ultimately crushing the extremist group. The US has been bombing Islamic State targets in neighboring Iraq since August.
Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.