U.S. and partner nations’ military forces continued to attack ISIS terrorists in Syria and Iraq yesterday and today, using bomber, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft to conduct nine airstrikes, U.S. Central Command officials reported.
In Syria, four airstrikes south of Kobani on the Turkish border destroyed an ISIS armored personnel carrier, destroyed three ISIS armed vehicles and damaged a fourth, and destroyed an ISIS artillery piece. A fifth airstrike, southwest of Kobani, destroyed an ISIS armed vehicle; a sixth airstrike, at the southern edge of Kobani, destroyed an ISIS artillery piece.
Two airstrikes northwest of Ar Raqqah successfully struck an active ISIS training camp and associated fighters. An airstrike northwest of Dayr az Zawr destroyed an ISIS tank.
United Arab Emirates aircraft participated in these airstrikes. All aircraft returned safely.
In Iraq, an airstrike east of Fallujah destroyed an ISIS checkpoint and an ISIS armed vehicle. An airstrike in western Ramadi destroyed three ISIS-held buildings and damaged two more, destroyed two ISIS anti-aircraft artillery pieces, and destroyed an ISIS unit. An airstrike northwest of Ramadi destroyed an ISIS checkpoint. An airstrike northeast of Sinjar Mountain destroyed an ISIS armed vehicle; another airstrike northeast of Sinjar against an ISIS vehicle was unsuccessful.
The United Kingdom and Netherlands aircraft participated in these airstrikes. All aircraft returned safely.
Despite the airstrikes, the key Syrian border city of Kobani will soon fall to ISIS, several senior U.S. administration officials said.
They downplayed the importance of it, saying Kobani is not a major U.S. concern.
But a look at the city shows why it would mark an important strategic victory for the Islamic mlitant group. ISIS would control a complete swath of land between its self-declared capital of Raqqa, Syria, and Turkey — a stretch of more than 100 kilometers (62 miles).
As Time.com put it, “If the ISIS militants take control of Kobani, they will have a huge strategic corridor along the Turkish border, linking with the terrorist group’s positions in Aleppo to the west and Raqqa to the east.”
And Staffan de Mistura, U.N. special envoy for Syria, warned of the horrors ISIS could carry out against the people of Kobani — horrors it has carried out elsewhere. “The international community needs to defend them,” he said. “The international community cannot sustain another city falling under ISIS.”
Coalition batters ISIS positions with airstrikes
A U.S.-led coalition has been pounding ISIS positions in the region with airstrikes for a few weeks.
The primary goal of the aerial campaign is not to save Syrian cities and towns, the U.S. officials said. Rather, the aim is to go after ISIS’ senior leadership, oil refineries and other infrastructure that would curb the terror group’s ability to operate — particularly in Iraq.
Saving Iraq is a more strategic goal for several reasons, the officials said. First, the United States has a relationship with the Iraqi government. By contrast, the Obama administration wants Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
Another reason: The United States has partners on the ground in Iraq, including Iraqi forces and Kurdish fighters known as Peshmerga.
Local fighters apparently made some headway Wednesday morning, when some ISIS militants in Kobani were pushed back to the city’s perimeter, Kurdish official Idriss Nassan said.
The battles have been bloody. More than 400 people have been killed in the fight for Kobani since mid-September, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The opposition group said it has documented the deaths of 219 ISIS jihadists, 163 members of the Kurdish militia and 20 civilians.
U.S. plan against ISIS: Iraq first, then Syria
The United States’ goal is to first beat back ISIS in Iraq, then eliminate some of its leadership and resources in Syria, the U.S. administration officials said.
If all goes as planned, by the time officials turn their attention to Syria, some of the Syrian opposition will be trained well enough to tackle ISIS in earnest.
Washington has been making efforts to arm and train moderate Syrian opposition forces who are locked in a fight against both ISIS and the al-Assad regime.
Training Syrian rebels could take quite a long time.
“It could take years, actually,” retired Gen. John Allen said last week. “Expectations need to be managed.”
The United States also wants Turkey to do more, the officials said. The administration is urging Turkey to at least fire artillery at ISIS targets across the border.
But the Turkish reluctance, the officials say, is wrapped up in the complex relationship with their own Kurds and the idea that they don’t want to help any of the Kurds in any way.
Hundreds of strikes, millions of dollars
The United States and its allies have made at least 271 airstrikes in Iraq and 116 in Syria.
The cost? More than $62 million for just the munitions alone.
The effect? Negligible, some say, particularly in Iraq.
One by one, the cities have fallen to ISIS like dominoes: Hit, Albu Aytha, Kubaisya, Saqlawia and Sejal.
And standing on the western outskirts of Baghdad, ISIS is now within sight.
“That’s DAIISH right over there,” said Iraqi Brig. Gen. Ali Abdel Hussain Kazim, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
The militants’ proximity to the capital is cause for concern. If the terror group manages to infiltrate and launch attacks in Baghdad or its green zone, the results could be disastrous.
Kazim said ISIS has not been able to move from eastern Anbar province to Baghdad. But another brigadier general said that’s not even the biggest threat.
The real danger to the Iraqi capital, Brig. Gen. Mohamed al-Askari said, is from ISIS sympathizers in the city.
“They are a gang,” he said. “They deploy among civilians. They disappear into the civilian population and camouflage themselves.”
CNN contributed to this report.