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Obama Rallies Coalition Commanders Against Islamic State

Obama Rallies Coalition Commanders Against Islamic State

(AFP) President Barack Obama attempted to rally allied commanders around his emerging strategy to defeat Islamic State jihadists on Tuesday, as the US-led air armada stepped up its raids in Syria.

Coalition jets carried out two dozen strikes to relieve pressure on Kobane, but Obama admitted to deep concern about the Syrian border town’s fate and he warned of a long campaign ahead.

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 campaign.

The military meeting, at an airbase outside Washington, came after allied warplanes had carried out its latest raids: 21 strikes over two days around Kobane, a Kurdish town on Syria’s border with Turkey.

The bombing was designed to halt an IS offensive which has seen jihadists push into the town, threatening a massacre under the noses of the Turkish troops and world media watching from the border.

A Syrian exile rights group reported that the latest strikes had at least saved Kobane from “falling entirely into the jihadists’ hands,” but Obama admitted he was still worried.

IS fighters are now in almost complete control of Sunni-majority Anbar, Iraq’s largest province, and are closing in on the western outskirts of Baghdad, headquarters of the Shiite-led government.

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 and which now, on paper, includes about 60 countries.

– Cautious ally –

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

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

France’s President Francois Hollande urged the West’s NATO ally to open the border to allow aid to reach Kurdish fighters mounting a desperate defense of the town, which “could fall at any moment.”

And US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Ankara had at least allowed the US-led coalition use of “certain facilities” while agreeing to host and train Syrian fighters opposed to the Islamic State group.

Kurdish fighters were trying to push into the eastern sector on the town, under IS control, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based rights group which has a wide network of sources inside Syria.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces are reported to be under intensifying pressure in Anbar province, where the town of Heet fell to the IS advance on Monday, according to Iraqi military sources.

– Ammunition drop –

Pro-government forces in northern Iraq were under pressure near the strategic Baiji oil refinery, where US aircraft Sunday dropped supplies including food, water and ammunition to Iraqi troops for the first time.

In Baghdad, an Iraqi lawmaker and prominent Shiite militia leader, Ahmed al-Khafaji, was one of at least 21 people killed by a suicide car bomb in the Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiyah.

The third bombing in Kadhimiyah in four days, Khafaji’s killing was immediately claimed by the Islamic State group.

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