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West braced for 'long term' IS campaign

October 15, 2014

United States President Barack Obama has attempted to rally allied commanders around his strategy to defeat "Islamic State" jihadists in Syria and Iraq. Current US-led air raids have been stepped up in northern Syria.

Image: Reuters/G. Cameron

Coalition jets on Tuesday carried out two dozen strikes to relieve pressure on Kobani, with Obama admitting having "deep concern" about the Syrian border town's fate.

In Washington, the president and the US military's top officer General Martin Dempsey met senior commanders from more than 20 Western and Arab allies involved in the "coalition of the willing" campaign to stem the self-proclaimed group Islamic State (IS).

The talks marked the first time high-ranking officers from so many nations have come together since the US-led coalition was formed in September, now comprising some 60 countries.

"One of the things that has emerged from our discussions … is that this is going to be a long-term campaign," Obama warned.

"There are not quick fixes involved. We're still at the early stages," he said, explaining that efforts were focused on breaking the siege of Kobani and on halting the IS advance in western Iraq.

"As with any military effort, there will be days of progress and there are going to be periods of setback, but our coalition is united behind this long-term effort," he added.

Luftangriff auf Kobane
Airstrikes in and around Kobani have proved effective in holding back IS fightersImage: Getty Images/G. Sahin

Obama worried about Kobani

Tuesday's military summit, at an airbase outside Washington, came after allied warplanes carried out the latest raids around Kobani, amounting to 21 strikes over two days.

The bombing was designed to halt an IS offensive that has seen jihadists push into the town, raising fears of a massacre while Turkish troops watch from the other side of the border.

A Syrian exile rights group reported that the latest strikes had at least saved Kobani from "falling entirely into jihadist control," but Obama said he was still worried.

"At this point, we're also focused on the fighting that is taking place in Iraq's Anbar province, and we're deeply concerned about the situation in and around the Syrian town of Kobani," Obama said.

Another conflict in the mix

Turkey, which has faced a three-decade Kurdish insurgency, has tightened security of its porous Syrian border after the fighting in Kobani sparked the exodus of 200,000 refugees.

But it remains a cautious ally. Turkey's troops have not intervened in Kobani despite being only a few hundred yards from the fighting, and it has yet to allow US jets to mount attacks from its territory.

Turkey further complicated issues Tuesday when officials in Ankara said that Turkish jets bombed Kurdish rebel targets in the southeast of Turkey in the first such strikes against the separatists since an increasingly fragile 2013 ceasefire.

Kurds say they do not want Turkish troops in Kobani but that Turkey should allow its territory to be used for passing weapons to Kurdish fighters defending the Syrian town. So far, Ankara has rejected the proposal.

One of the PKK chiefs said on Saturday that all fighters had been called back to Turkey and warned that the peace process in resolving the decades-old conflict was in danger of collapse.

gb/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters)