Photo par Danny Gold / News
Kurdish forces in Syria made significant advances against the Islamic State on Monday, reportedly expelling the militants almost completely from the besieged city of Kobane after months of deadly fighting that forced tens of thousands of local residents to flee across the border into Turkey."The Islamic State is on the verge of defeat," Idriss Nassan, a senior Kurdish official with the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), said from the Syrian-Turkish border. "Their defenses have collapsed and its fighters have fled."
Sporadic clashes in neighborhoods in the city's east are continuing, the SOHR reported.Kurdish fighters planted their flag on a hill near the border town in celebration, replacing the black Islamic State flag that has flown there since September when the militants moved in on the city and surrounding areas. At one point, Kurdish fighters estimated the militant group controlled 75 percent of the city.In photos: 48 hours under siege by Islamic State militants in Kobane. Read more here.
The Islamic State's advance was countered by the US-led airstrike campaign that began September 23 in Kobane. Weeks later, in October, Syrian Kurdish fighters on the ground were joined by Kurdish Peshmerga forces that had previously battled the militants in Iraq.Coalition warplanes typically conduct three to five daily strikes, but the US Central Command said Monday that the US launched 17 airstrikes against militant targets near Kobane within the last 24 hours.The intensified fighting has reportedly resulted in casualties on both sides, Gharib Hassou, a representative of Syria's powerful Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), told the Associated Press."There are a lot of dead bodies… and they left some of the weapons," he said, adding that many militants had retreated to Tal Abyad, a town east of Kobane.
Videos showed crowds gathering in Istanbul to celebrate the apparent victory.
It could take two years to defeat the Islamic State, says UK foreign secretary. Read more here.
The Islamic State has released a series of increasingly elaborate propaganda films touting the capture of certain villages since the group began its brutal takeover of large areas Iraq and Syria last summer.In one video filmed in Kobane in October, John Cantlie, a British photojournalist being held hostage by the militants, declares that the city is essentially under Islamic State control and that the militants are "mopping up now."
The group has also made elaborate films that broadcast ransom demands and show the execution of foreign hostages.A day after the Islamic State reportedly executed a Japanese captive in Syria and made fresh demands for the release of another Japanese citizen, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said in a televised interview with ABC that the US is committed to rescuing American hostages. But, in an accidental slip, McDonough blurted out the first name of an American woman currently being held by the militant group."As it relates to our hostages, we are obviously continuing to work those matters very, very aggressively," McDonough said. "We are sparing no expense and sparing no effort, both in trying to make sure that we know where they are and make sure that we're prepared to do anything we must to try to get them home."
"But [the woman's] family knows how strongly the president feels about this and we will continue to work this," he added.Video claims the Islamic State has executed one Japanese hostage and issued new ransom demands. Read more here.The group reportedly captured the 26-year-old hostage — who VICE News is declining to name at the request of her family — on August 4, 2013. The militants have demanded a $6.6 million ransom or quid-pro-quo exchange of US-held prisoners in return for her release.The woman, who was an aid worker in the region at the time of her kidnapping, is one of at least four Americans abducted by the Islamic State.In November, the group released a video that showed the execution of US aid worker Peter Kassig, which followed the videotaped beheadings of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields