IS Advances in Kobane as Turkey Rejects Solo Ground Action

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Advancing Islamic State fighters seized control of a third of the Syrian border town of Kobane Thursday, as Turkey rejected sending in troops on its own against the jihadists.

Despite intensified U.S.-led air strikes, IS militants captured more ground in overnight fighting that killed dozens, as calls grew for ground action to support Kobane's beleaguered Kurdish defenders.

But after talks with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara could not be expected to act alone.

"It's not realistic to expect that Turkey will lead a ground operation on its own," he said.

Ankara has come under pressure over its inaction as the jihadists advance on its doorstep, with protests in Kurdish areas in Turkey sparking clashes that claimed at least 22 lives and forced authorities to impose a curfew in six provinces.

Kobane, where Kurdish militia have been holding out against a three-week siege by the jihadists, has become a crucial battleground in the fight against IS.

With the global media gathered just across the border in Turkey, its conquest would be a highly visible symbolic victory for the extremists.

The U.S.-led coalition carried out five air strikes south of Kobane in its latest raids, hitting two IS combat units, destroying a support building and two vehicles, and damaging a training camp, the U.S. military said Thursday.

"Indications are that Kurdish militia there continue to control most of the city and are holding out against ISIL," it said, using an alternative acronym for IS.

But a Kobane refugee who spoke to AFP across the border in Turkey said "air strikes are not helpful alone. We need heavy weaponry and tanks to support a ground operation."

Street battles have been raging in Kobane since the jihadists breached its defenses earlier this week.

IS fighters pulled out of some areas on Wednesday but have since renewed their offensive and seized more ground, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

"Despite fierce resistance from the Kurdish forces, IS advanced during the night and controls more than a third of Kobane," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Eleven IS fighters were killed and Kurdish forces captured four in Kobane on Thursday, according to the Britain-based monitoring group.

Clashes were ongoing in northeastern Kobane, where several official buildings and the Kurdish command are based, and were particular fierce in the town's southwest, it added.

Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, would be a major prize for the jihadists, giving them unbroken control of a long stretch of Syria's border with Turkey.

The extremists have seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, declaring an Islamic "caliphate" and committing widespread atrocities.

Washington launched an air campaign against IS in Iraq in August, and last month expanded it to Syria with the participation of five Arab allies.

After meeting defense chiefs on Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama admitted the fight against IS would not be easy.

"This is not something that is going to be solved overnight," he said.

The Pentagon said U.S.-led aircraft were hitting the IS group at every opportunity, but without a force on the ground to work with, there were limits to what could be done.

"We don't have a willing, capable, effective partner on the ground inside Syria right now. It's just a fact," said spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Obama has dispatched retired U.S. general John Allen, and the U.S. pointman on Iraq, Brett McGurk, to Ankara to squeeze commitments from Turkey on what role it can play in the coalition.

The Turkish response has been complicated by concerns over emboldening Kurdish separatists who have waged a deadly insurgency for three decades.

Pro-Kurdish protesters angered by Turkey's lack of action have clashed with police for three nights running, defying an army-imposed curfew.

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