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Islamic State Takes Hill Over Kurdish Border Stronghold

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Islamic State Takes Hill Over Kurdish Border Stronghold

Islamic State fighters captured a strategic hill overlooking the Syrian stronghold of Kobani on the border with Turkey after a three-week siege of the town, according to NTV television and local Kurds.

A tank and some militants standing next to a heavy machine gun were seen on the hill of Mistenur to the east of Kobani, NTV reported today. There were heavy clashes overnight and “Islamic State now controls that hill,” Ahmet Destan, a Kurdish villager, said by phone. Kurdish fighters were battling to regain the position, the Kurdish news agency Firat reported.

Turkey ordered residents of some border areas to leave for their own safety. Dozens of explosions in Kobani throughout the morning sent plumes smoke rising above the skyline, a live broadcast from the Turkish-Syrian border showed.

The militants are seeking to expand territory under a self-declared caliphate that stretches across much of northern Iraq and Syria. In a bid to stop their gains, fighter jets from the U.S. and its allies have struck Islamic State positions in both countries. Kurdish leaders have accused the coalition, and Turkey, of not doing enough to save Kobani from falling.

U.S. Airstrikes

U.S. Central Command said in a statement the coalition had carried out nine strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq yesterday and today. The Pentagon has said that while it’s monitoring the situation in Kobani and has carried out strikes in the area, its efforts in Syria are mostly aimed at areas used as safe havens by Islamic State, while in Iraq the bombing campaign is supporting local Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

At least three people were wounded on the Turkish side of the Syrian border, by errant mortar fire and bullets. Authorities have evacuated border villages and closed schools until further notice, Governor Izzettin Kucuk of Sanliurfa province said today.

The Turkish military deployed more armored personnel carriers and tanks to the border, where troops used loudspeakers to warn residents to leave their houses, Hurriyet newspaper reported.

The rapid advance of the militants on Kobani has sent tens of thousands of residents, mostly Kurds, fleeing to Turkey over the past three weeks. The Islamic State fighters are equipped with tanks and heavy artillery, outgunning the lightly armed Kurdish fighters.

‘Just Outside’

Syria’s Kurds have gained effective autonomy during the country’s three-year civil war, as central government authority over their region receded. The main Kurdish group there has links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey for three decades, and is classified as a terrorist group by Turkey and the U.S.

Kurdish politicians in Syria and Turkey have complained of a lack of international support, and say Turkey is seeking to quash the development of Kurdish self-rule in Syria. Turkey, which is pursuing peace talks with the PKK, says it will do whatever is in its power to stop a militant takeover of Kobani.

Islamic State fighters “haven’t been able to penetrate the city yet but clashes are occurring just outside Kobani,” said Zuhal Ekmez, deputy mayor of Suruc, a Turkish town just across the border. Fighting yesterday killed more than 11 Kurdish fighters and 16 militants, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Biden Apology

Turkey’s parliament on Oct. 2 renewed a mandate for military action across its southern borders with Syria and Iraq, citing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad as one of the threats, as well as Islamic State and the PKK. Turkey’s policy in Syria has focused on the removal of Assad since the early stages of the civil war.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden yesterday apologized by phone to Erdogan following reports Biden had criticized Turkey for allowing militants to cross its border into Syria. Biden told students at Harvard University on Oct. 2 that Turkey was so eager to take down Assad that it had supported militant groups who came to the country, according to the Associated Press. Erdogan rejected the reported comments.

(Updates with U.S. army statement in fourth paragraph.)