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Jihadists make advances in Anbar

October 13, 2014

"Islamic State" militants have captured a military training camp in western Iraq as they move to completely take over Anbar province. The jihadists have also made new gains in the embattled Syrian border town of Kobani.

This file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, shows a convoy of vehicles and fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters in Iraq's Anbar Province. . (AP Photo via militant website, File)
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Jihadist militants from the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) group on Monday seized an army base near the Iraqi town of Hit, local media and witnesses reported.

Iraqi soldiers were forced to withdraw from the area after hours of clashes with the militants, the Al-Mada Press said.

The militants captured Hit earlier this month. The United Nations said on Sunday that clashes around the town have displaced some 180,000 people, many of whom had fled there from other regions where IS has already taken control.

The capture of the military base marks a further step in the advance of the militants into the western Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, which extends from the western edge of the capital, Baghdad, to the Syrian border. The IS advance threatens to cut off those security forces still in the province, with Iraqi troops still reeling from the IS summer offensive that saw the group take over large amounts of territory in western and northern Iraq.

Airstrikes 'insufficient'

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who paid an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Monday, however insisted that Iraqi security forces would have to do the "heavy work on the ground," warning that US-led airstrikes on the militants would not suffice to drive them back.

"The coalition can only deliver effective support to the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces," Hammond said. "The Iraqi people, the Iraqi security forces and Iraqi government will have to take the lead on the ground."

The British government joined the US-led coalition in carrying out airstrikes in Iraq on September 30, but has so far refused to take part in a similar campaign in Syria, where the IS also control huge swathes of territory. Both the Iraqi government and those foreign governments providing assistance have balked at the use of foreign ground troops to combat the jihadists.

Dire situation for Kobani

In Syria, meanwhile, IS fighters have gained ground in the border town of Kobani, known in Arabic as Ayn al-Arab, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday.

Despite attempts by the town's Kurdish defenders to push them back, the militants had captured the town's cultural center and were moving towards its heart, the Observatory said.

Fighting had spread to less than a kilometer (half a mile) from the Turkish border to the north of the town, according to the activist group, which gains its information from a network of sources in the region.

Many fear that if the IS succeed in cutting off the border crossing into Turkey, the town's only remaining lifeline, it could set the stage for a massacre of those residents, many of them elderly, who have not yet fled.

tj/sb (dpa, AFP, AP)