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15 Oct, 2014 22:18

‘Inherent Resolve’: Intensified US airstrikes beat back ISIS, bolster Kurds in Kobani

‘Inherent Resolve’: Intensified US airstrikes beat back ISIS, bolster Kurds in Kobani

The US-led aerial campaign against Islamic State militants, known as 'Operation Inherent Resolve,' has intensified over the past two days. The escalation in airstrikes has helped embattled Kurdish fighters regain ground in the Syrian city of Kobani.

Coalition strikes have trebled over last week, with nearly 40 airstrikes being launched in the past 48 hours, Reuters reported.

The aerial bombardment has centered around the Syrian town of Kobani, where besieged Kurdish fighters have desperately battled off a lightning Islamic State (IS) siege to capture the city.

According to Reuters, the US military conducted 21 and 18 strikes on militant targets in or near the town in the two 24-hour periods since Monday. In contrast, the previous week saw the area targeted roughly half a dozen times a day.

The intensified campaign, which has become increasingly effective due to intelligence and on-the-ground coordination with Kurdish fighters, has resulted in at least 32 IS militants being killed in that 48-hour period.

It has also paid dividends for Kurdish fighters who were at risk of being engulfed by the IS advance within “a matter of days.”

On Wednesday, a black IS flag raised on a hill overlooking Kobani was torn down after militants were targeted by coalition air strikes.

Isis in Kobani: Black flag is torn down as Kurdish fighters capture hill overlooking Kobani in symbolic victory . pic.twitter.com/4gytz3KX2R

— Sabah Mustafa (@Sabah_Salh) October 15, 2014

The symbolic move stands in sharp contrast to the situation on October 6, when thousands fled the city after the black Islamic State flag was raised over a building on the outskirts of the city, signaling the militants’ rapid advance.

The US military, however, has stressed that the situation on the ground remains “fluid,” with the dramatically outgunned Kurds holding out far longer than many analysts had predicted.

Roughly a third of the city remains under IS control, with intense street-by-street battles tearing through Kobani on a daily basis.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fierce clashes erupted on Tuesday in Kobani’s eastern neighborhoods and on the southern edge of the city.

Despite the continued IS advance, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said in a report that the airstrikes have put a significant dent in the Islamic State's ability to produce and smuggle oil – a major source of finance for the militants, according to The Independent.

U.S. Navy F-18E Super Hornet jets leave to support military operations against ISIL after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over Iraq, October 4, 2014 (Reuters / USAF)

‘Inherent Resolve’

A US military commander announced Wednesday that the campaign against IS has been named 'Operation Inherent Resolve.'

The United States and five Arab countries first initiated the Syrian campaign in September, following a string of recorded beheadings of Westerners by IS militants.

The US and several other Western states, including the UK, are also carrying out airstrikes in neighboring Iraq, where IS has also seized large swaths of territory. The Iraq campaign started on August 8.

The Obama administration now says that 60 countries in total are taking part in US-led efforts to defeat the militant group, which it says it has established a “caliphate” on Iraqi and Syrian territory.

On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama met with top brass from 20 countries to work out military options on further stemming the tide of the Islamic State's advance.

Obama is also scheduled to hold a video conference on Wednesday with British, French, German, and Italian leaders, during which IS is set to top the agenda, the White House said.

The US president, along with his Western partners, have all ruled out the possibility of engaging in ground operations.

Several countries, however, have already worked in an advisory capacity. So far, the US has an estimated 1,400 military personnel in Iraq, largely concentrated in Baghdad, to tackle the IS threat. On Tuesday, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the UK is considering training moderate Syrian rebels to battle IS.

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells (Reuters / Ahmed Jadallah)

Fallon’s comments came just days after the UK Defence Ministry said a team of a dozen men had been dispatched to northern Iraq to train Kurdish fighters to use heavy machine guns which the UK supplied to them in September. German troops are also on the ground in small numbers working as advisors.

Earlier, the Shia-dominated Iraqi government expressed opposition to Sunni-led Gulf Arab states playing any part in the intervention against IS militants in the country. Recently, however, the Iraqi government appears increasingly uneasy about the growing presence of Western boots on the ground.

On Wednesday, a 200-strong contingent of Australian special forces intended to advise military forces in Iraq remained stuck in the United Arab Emirates amid rumblings from Baghdad that they are not welcome.

“We are absolutely against foreign military bases and the presence of foreign military forces. Yes, we did ask for help, but it concerned air cover,” newly appointed Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari told RT.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised the issue would be settled within a matter of days.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday that France would continue delivering arms – especially “adapted weaponry” – to Kurdish forces in Syria. He did not, however, specify the details of those weapons. Despite being part of the US coalition, France is not participating in the airstrikes.

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, in this U.S. Air Force handout photo taken early in the morning of September 23, 2014 (Reuters / HO)

The Turkish question

Turkey – which participated in Tuesday’s talks with Obama but did not send its highest ranking general – has resisted pressure to become involved inside Syria or allow the US military to use its bases to launch airstrikes, despite reports to the contrary. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan previously said that Ankara would only intervene in Syria with the explicit goal of toppling the government of Bashar Assad.

Turkey, along with France, has suggested setting up a no-fly zone and buffer zone on Syrian soil to protect refugees in northern Syria.

On Wednesday, Syria called the proposal a “gross violation” of the UN Charter and international law, and rejected it “under any pretext.”

Unlike Iraq, whose permission was at least nominally sought out before military operations began in the country, the US-led coalition began operations in Syria without obtaining permission from Damascus.

Meanwhile, Turkish inaction has triggered riots among the country’s 15 million-strong Kurdish minority, leading to the deaths of at least 35 people in clashes last week.

Tensions continued to soar on Monday, when Turkish warplanes bombed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets near the country’s border with Iraq.

Turkey says the bombings came in response to three days of attacks on the Daglıca military guard post in Hakkari province. The PKK, a Turkish Kurdish party that has fought for greater Kurdish autonomy within Turkey for nearly three decades, accused Ankara of violating a March 2013 ceasefire with the airstrikes.

Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of PKK, threatened to call off peace talks if Ankara did not intervene on behalf of Kurds in Kobani by Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Erdogan said that IS and the PKK are equally worthy of contempt in the eyes of Turkey.

"It is wrong to consider them [IS and PKK] in different ways,” Erdogan said. “We need to handle them all together on a common ground."