US pounds ISIS in Kobane after first talks with Syria Kurds

MURSITPINAR (AFP) - US-led warplanes pummelled militants attacking the Syrian town of Kobane Friday as the Pentagon said there was no imminent threat to Baghdad despite a wave of deadly bombings.

Six strikes hit Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) positions close to the front line in the east of Kobane, taking advantage of new coordination with the town's Kurdish defenders, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

In neighbouring Iraq, sandstorms hampered the US-led air campaign against the militants, but despite recent advances west of Baghdad, ISIS is not poised for an assault on the capital, the Pentagon said.

The dawn strikes in Kobane came after US Central Command said American warplanes struck 14 times around the town on Wednesday and Thursday, including "successful" raids on 19 ISIS-held buildings.

"There is coordination between the Kurdish forces and the Americans," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

"The Kurds are giving them the exact coordinates of where the fighting is."

On Friday, Kurdish fighters faced three attacks by ISIS militants in the east and near the centre, said the Britain-based Observatory, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.

Previously, Kurdish commanders in Kobane had complained of a lack of coordination with US air commanders to ensure support for their fighters on the ground.

Washington revealed it held its first direct talks last weekend with the main Syrian Kurdish group whose forces have been battling ISIS.

Earlier contacts with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) had all been handled through intermediaries, as the group has close ties with the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - which is on the US terror blacklist - over the border in Turkey.

The PYD has been appealing urgently for weapons to resupply its outgunned fighters in Kobane.

But asked if Washington was discussing the request, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "I don't think we're at that point."

The Kurds claimed to have pushed ISIS back in parts of Kobane as the coalition intensified its air strikes in recent days.

But the Pentagon warned that the strikes may not prevent the town's fall even though it says several hundred militants have been killed.

With the world's press massed just across the border in Turkey, the battle for Kobane has become a high-profile one for both ISIS and its opponents.

But the Islamic extremists are also fighting on other fronts, both in Syria and in neighbouring Iraq.

In eastern Syria, ISIS lost nine of its fighters in clashes with government forces in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, the Observatory said.

In Hasakeh province in the northeast, it lost 20 fighters in clashes with Kurdish forces on Thursday.

Coalition forces have now carried out more than 100 air strikes near Kobane since September 27.

The month-old ISIS assault on the area has sparked an exodus of some 200,000 mainly Kurdish refugees across the border, where the town's plight has stoked nationalist sentiment among Turkey's own large Kurdish minority.

Ankara's inaction has sparked deadly Kurdish protests that have left at least 34 people dead and complicated Washington's negotiations with its NATO ally for it to play a bigger role against ISIS.

The US military says Kobane may eventually fall but insists it is not a "strategic" location and that other areas carry more importance, particularly in western Iraq and the suburbs of Baghdad.

Bombings in and around Baghdad killed at least 26 people and wounded dozens Thursday, including a double car bombing in the Dolai neighbourhood that was claimed by ISIS.

Despite such attacks, US military spokesmen Rear Admiral John Kirby said "we don't believe that Baghdad is under imminent threat" from the militants.

"It's not the first time in recent weeks or even months that there's been IED (improvised explosive device) attacks inside Baghdad," he said.

"There are not masses of formations of (ISIS) forces outside of Baghdad about to come in."

Kirby said "terrible" weather had hampered US-led air strikes in Iraq in recent days.

Iraqi government forces launched an offensive on Friday north of the city of Tikrit, one of a string of mainly Sunni Arab towns north and west of Baghdad that the militants seized in June.

President Barack Obama told military chiefs from more than 20 allies this week they are facing a "long-term campaign" to defeat ISIS, which is well entrenched in a swathe of both Iraq and Syria.

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