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Kurdish fighters obtain military achievements in Kobani with collaboration of US airstrikes, ISIS threatens to reset strongholds

By Tajuddin
In SPOTLIGHT
Jan 31st, 2015
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A Syrian Kurdish sniper looks at the rubble in Kobani on Friday. The Islamic State group has acknowledged for the first time that its fighters have been defeated in Kobani and vowed to attack the town again

A Syrian Kurdish sniper looks at the rubble in Kobani on Friday. The Islamic State group has acknowledged for the first time that its fighters have been defeated in Kobani and vowed to attack the town again

Beirut , Lebanon ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) — The Islamic State group has acknowledged for the first time that its fighters have been defeated in the Syrian town of Kobani and vowed to attack the town again.

In a video released by the pro-IS Aamaq News Agency late Friday, two fighters said the airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition were the main reason why ISIS fighters were forced to withdraw from Kobani. One fighter vowed to defeat the main Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units known as the YPG.

On Monday, activists and Kurdish officials said the town was almost cleared of IS fighters, who once held nearly half of Kobani.

An Associated Press video from inside the town showed widespread destruction, streets littered with debris and abandoned neighbourhoods. The video also showed a new cemetery with fresh graves.

The town’s famous Freedom Square, with a statue of an eagle spreading its wings, stood intact in the middle of the destruction. The square is near the so-called Kurdish security quarter — an eastern district where Kurdish militiamen maintained security buildings and offices, and which was occupied by IS fighters for about two months until they were forced out earlier in January.

In the newly released ISIS video, the militant fighters acknowledged that they have been driven from the town.

“A while ago we retreated a bit from Ayn al-Islam because of the bombardment and the killing of some brothers,” said one masked fighter, using the group’s preferred name for Kobani. He spoke Arabic with a north African accent.

The failure to capture and hold Kobani was a major blow to the extremists. Their hopes for an easy victory dissolved into a costly siege under withering airstrikes by coalition forces and an assault by Kurdish militiamen.

The United States and several Arab allies have been striking IS positions in Syria since Sept. 23. The campaign aims to push back the jihadi organization after it took over about a third of Iraq and Syria and declared the captured territory a new caliphate.

Now Kurdish officials are hailing the retaking of Kobani as an important step toward rolling back the Islamic State group’s territorial gains.

“Kobani Canton is a representative of the resistance against terrorism in the world,” said senior Syrian Kurdish official in Kobani, Anwar Muslim. “We hope that the world will support us to come through our struggle against IS.”

Meanwhile the ISIS fighters vowed that their defeat in Kobani will not weaken them.

“The Islamic State will stay. Say that to (U.S. President Barack) Obama,” said the fighter, pointing his finger toward destruction on the edge of Kobani.

The fighters both laid blame for their defeat on the coalition air campaign, seemingly downplaying the role played by Kurdish militiamen — whom they refer to as “rats.”

Another ISIS fighter, also speaking in Arabic, said while standing on a road with a green sign with “Ayn al-Islam” sprayed on it: “The warplanes did not leave any construction. They destroyed everything, so we had to withdraw and the rats advanced.”

“The warplanes were bombarding us night and day. They bombarded everything, even motorcycles,” the fighter said.

ISIS launched an offensive on the Kobani region in mid-September capturing more than 300 Kurdish villages and parts of the town. As a result of the airstrikes and stiff Kurdish resistance, IS began retreating a few weeks ago, losing more than 1,000 fighters, according to activists.

Earlier this week, Kurdish officials said YPG fighters have launched a counterattack to retake some of the surrounding villages around Kobani, many of which remain in IS hands.

A kurdish fighter points to the bodies of ISIS militants in the fight for Kobani , a Syrian border town

A kurdish fighter points to the bodies of ISIS militants in the fight for Kobani , a Syrian border town

The bodies of ISIS fighters lined the streets of Kobani, a Syrian border town, days after Kurdish fighters claimed to regain control of the destroyed city, according to reports.

Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) rounded up the bodies of around 20 Islamic extremists Friday after a four-month intensive battle, the AFP reported.

Kurdish forces pushed ISIS militants out of the mainly Kurdish town outside Turkey on Monday, Syrian state media reported. They managed to take back 17 out of the hundreds of villages and “liberated several regions” to its west, YPG told AFP.

ISIS supporters said in an online video they withdrew because of airstrikes but vowed to return, AFP reported.

Militants fired a mortar shell inside the city Thursday, wounding four civilians, Turkey’s Radikal newspaper reported. In recent weeks, they carried out more than 35 suicide attacks in Kobani.

It’s too soon to say “mission accomplished” because battles rage on to the southeast and southwest of the city, a senior U.S. State Department official said.

More than 200,000 refugees who fled to Turkey joyously celebrated the victory claim, Reuters reported. They are eager to return home after months of cold weather, hunger and poverty.

But their hometown is littered with debris from fallen buildings and bombs, suggesting that it might be a while before they can return.

The violence hollowed out the town — the roads have craters meters deep — and reduced large swaths of Kobani to rubble. Sheets meant to hide residents from snipers’ views still hover over the wreckage.

Although Kurdish flags hang where ISIS ones used to, civilians and fighters are nervous about walking around because of continued mortar shell firings and the potential for unexploded traps to go off.

“Coming back to Kobani will be even more difficult than leaving it,” one YPG fighter from the Kurdish told Reuters, clutching a machinegun and standing in front of the ruins of a building.

“This city needs to be rebuilt from scratch. Everything is destroyed,” he said, pointing to a pile of debris as tall as the single-story building next to it.

A fighter of the Kurdish People's Protection Units ( YPG) walks on the debris of a destroyed building in Kobani , Friday

A fighter of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units ( YPG) walks on the debris of a destroyed building in Kobani , Friday

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan questioned whether the city could be fixed.

“Today they are dancing with happiness. What happened?” he told local government officials in his Ankara palace. “(Islamic State) is out there, fine. But who will repair all those places you bombed? Will those 200,000 who fled Kobani be able to go back? When they are back, where will they live?”

Kobani became the symbol of the international fight against the terrorist group — which controls large portions of territory in Syria and Iraq — after ISIS militants streamed into town with heavy artillery Sept. 16, prompting U.S.-led forces to drop weapons and ammunition.

The terrorists never fully captured the city but had enough power in the area — they controlled about 300 villages — that they used Kobani as a background for propaganda videos. An October clip showed captive British photojournalist John Cantlie in the city, which the group used to prove that its fighters had pushed deep inside the city’s core.

Since the battle began, the death toll has reached about 1,600 people, including 1,075 ISIS fighters, 459 Kurdish soldiers and 32 civilians, activists estimated.

Kurds retake oil facility in north Iraq

Kurdish peshmerga forces retook a small crude oil station near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk which Islamic State insurgents seized earlier on Saturday, but the fate of 15 employees remained unclear.

Two officials from the state-run North Oil Co told Reuters the militants had seized a crude oil separation unit in Khabbaz on Saturday morning and said 15 oil workers were missing after the company lost contact with them.

One of the officials and a Kurdish military source said the peshmerga forces had regained control of the facility on Saturday evening and were combing it for explosives.

They were unable to confirm the fate of the 15 workers or provide details about the losses incurred by either side.

“We received a call from one of the workers saying dozens of Daesh fighters were surrounding the facility and asking workers to leave the premises. We lost contact and now the workers might be taken hostage,” an engineer from the North Oil Co told Reuters, using a derogatory acronym for Islamic State.

Kurdish military sources said Major General Hussein Mansour, who had mobilized a unit from Khanaqin to reinforce the Kurdish forces outside Kirkuk, was killed by a sniper in the fighting. The mayor of Khanaqin confirmed the report.

IS seized at least four small oilfields when it overran large areas of northern Iraq last summer, and began selling crude oil and gasoline to finance their operations.

Khabbaz is a small oilfield 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Kirkuk with a maximum production capacity of 15,000 barrels per day. It was producing around 10,000 bpd before the attack.

Islamic State insurgents attacked regional Kurdish forces southwest of Kirkuk on Friday, seizing some areas including parts of the Khabbaz oilfields.

Further south near Baghdad, two bombs in a central neighborhood and a farming district south of the capital killed at least seven civilians on Saturday, medics and police said.

Two soldiers were also killed when a bomb exploded close to an army patrol near Taji, a predominantly Sunni Muslim rural district north of Baghdad.

At least 24 others were wounded in the explosions.

In Falluja in the western province of Anbar, hospital sources said five people, including two children, were killed during Iraqi army shelling of Islamic State positions. They said at least 44 others were wounded, including 25 IS fighters.

It is difficult to confirm reports from hospitals in the area, which is mostly controlled by Islamic State.

The radical jihadist group has declared a medieval-style caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria and poses the biggest challenge to the stability of OPEC member Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

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