MURSITPINAR,Turkey — Kurdish fighters battled Islamic State fighters in the heart of Kobane on Saturday as they continued to hold out against the militants more than a week after their assault on the small Syrian border town.
The Kurds claimed they managed to push back a new assault aimed at capturing the central square, a day after the extremist group captured the headquarters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is defending the town.
A sharp uptick in U.S. airstrikes in recent days has helped the Kurds hold on to Kobane, with nearly 50 strikes reported in and around the town over the past week.
The U.S. Central Command said warplanes had carried out six more Friday and Saturday. But activists said that only one of those was on Saturday, in the morning, and that none took place for the rest of the day, perhaps because of a dust storm that clouded the skies and obscured visibility.
Finding targets may also have become more difficult as the fighting reaches deeper into the streets of the small town, which lies immediately across the border from Turkey. The sound of automatic fire and explosions rattled across farmland on the Turkish side of the border, but the fighting seemed less intense than in recent days, according to the Kurds who gather every day to watch the battle.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the YPG killed 23 Islamic State fighters, including 16 who died when the Kurdish fighters targeted two trucks transporting ammunition to the front. Anwar Muslim, the prime minister of the self-styled Kurdish government of the area, said the Kurdish militia has lost about 50 fighters since the battle for the Kurdish enclave began more than three weeks ago.
Before reaching the town of Kobane, the Islamic State swept through scores of villages scattered across a swath of northern Syria where Kurds had declared a self-governing territory, sending nearly 200,000 people fleeing across the border into Turkey.
Kurds have appealed for international pressure on Turkey to permit arms and reinforcements across the border to the fighters defending the town. But Turkey has a long history of enmity with Turkish Kurds and has thrown up a wall of steel along the border. Tanks, armored vehicles and troops are fanned out across the hills overlooking Kobane, and soldiers at checkpoints refuse to permit either people or goods to cross into the Syrian town.
Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan expressed his frustration Saturday with the mounting international pressure on Turkey to do more to help the Kurds.
“What does Kobane have to do with Turkey? With İstanbul, with Ankara?” he asked at a ceremony inaugurating a school in the town of Rize, according to Turkish media.
There is confusion about how many people may be left in the town, with Kurdish activists and residents who fled ahead of the final assault saying that Kobane is now almost empty, and the United Nations saying that up to 10,000 people may be at risk of death if the Islamic State manages to capture the town.