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IS forces pushed out of Syrian town

Kurdish fighters backed by intense US-led air strikes pushed Islamic State entirely out of a key Syrian town today.

The action marked a major defeat for the extremists, whose hopes for an easy victory when they pushed into Kobani last year dissolved into a bloody, costly and months-long siege.

As their victory neared, Kurdish troops raised their flag on a hill overlooking the town just across the border from Turkey, replacing Islamic State's black banner.

The battlefield success is a major conquest both for Syria's embattled Kurds and the US-led coalition, whose American coordinator had predicted that Islamic State would "impale itself" on Kobani.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Kobani-based Syrian activist Farhad Shami said Islamic State had been fully expelled, with some sporadic fighting on the eastern edges of the town.

In September, Islamic State (IS) fighters began capturing some 300 Kurdish villages near Kobani and thrust into the town, occupying nearly half of it. Tens of thousands of refugees spilled across the border into Turkey.

By October, IS's control of Kobani was so widespread that it even made a propaganda video from the town featuring captive British photojournalist John Cantlie to convey its message that Islamic State fighters had pushed deep inside despite air strikes.

Kobani, whose capture would have given the jihadi group control of a border crossing with Turkey and opened direct lines between its positions along the border, quickly became a centrepiece of the US-led air campaign in Syria. American secretary of state John Kerry declared it would be "morally very difficult" not to help Kobani.

The air assault began on September 23, with Kobani the target of about a half-dozen air strikes each day, and often more.

More than 80% of all coalition air strikes in Syria have been in or around the town. At one point in October, the US air campaign dropped bundles of weapons and medical supplies for Kurdish fighters - a first in the Syrian conflict.

Analysts, as well as Syrian and Kurdish activists, credit the campaign and the arrival in October of heavily-armed Kurdish peshmerga fighters from Iraq, who neutralised Islamic State's artillery advantage, for bringing key areas of the town under Kurdish control.

Idriss Nassan, a senior Kurdish official, said coalition strikes became more intense in the past few days, helping Kurdish fighters in their final push toward Islamic State positions on the southern and eastern edges of the town.

The US Central Command said today that it had carried out 17 air strikes near Kobani over the last 24 hours that struck Islamic State infrastructure and fighting positions.

Mr Nassan said he was preparing to head into Kobani tomorrow and expected the town to be fully free by then.


From Belfast Telegraph