US-led air strikes in Syria were reported Thursday to have killed more than 500 jihadists in a month, as Kurdish fighters prepared to reinforce the embattled border town of Kobane.
An AFP correspondent across the frontier in Turkey reported fierce clashes in several parts of Kobane early Thursday, with heavy gun and mortar fire.
The town’s Kurdish defenders have been holding out against an assault by the Islamic State (IS) militant group for more than a month, buoyed in recent days by a promise of Iraqi Kurd reinforcements and by US air drops of weapons.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that 200 Iraqi Kurd peshmerga fighters would travel through Turkey to join the battle in Kobane, where about 1,000 IS militants are believed to be fighting.
Fighter jets were again heard flying over Kobane on Thursday, the AFP reporter said, a month after the US-led coalition expanded its aerial campaign against IS in Iraq to Syria.
The air strikes have killed 553 people since their launch, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, including 464 IS fighters and 57 militants from Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front.
Thirty-two civilians have also been killed, including six children and five women, said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that the “vast majority” of jihadists killed in the strikes were not Syrians but foreign fighters who had joined IS and Nusra in the country.
After first focusing on Iraq, the coalition has dramatically expanded its strikes in Syria in recent days, including at Kobane which has become a crucial battleground in the fight against IS.
The US military said Thursday that IS fighting positions, a vehicle and a jihadist command and control centre were destroyed in the latest coalition raids near Kobane.
In Iraq, airstrikes hit IS targets including a large “unit” and a training centre.
The jihadist group launched an offensive against Kobane last month, as it seeks to expand its control over large parts of Syria and Iraq where it declared an Islamic “caliphate” earlier this year.
The jihadists made fresh advances in and around Kobane on Thursday, the Observatory said, seizing territory in the town centre and to its north.
IS fighters also took control of a string of villages west of Kobane, it said, as the militants made their first gains on the ground in several days.
IS and Kurdish fighters have regularly traded territory during the fight for the town, with neither side able to gain a decisive edge in the battle.
Local officials say the exhausted fighters are in desperate need of relief and anxious for promised reinforcements from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers in their capital Arbil agreed on Wednesday to send their peshmerga fighters, after Turkey this week said it would allow them to travel to Kobane.
Mustafa Qader, the Iraqi Kurdish official responsible for the peshmerga, said the fighters “will remain there until they are no longer needed”.
By Fulya Ozerkan with Mohamad Ali Harissi in Beiru