After a week-long lull in the fighting, Islamic State forces have renewed their assault on the Syrian border town of Kobani, attacking the Kurdish defenders from three sides.
Dozens of mortars were fired into the city and two car bombs exploded near Kurdish positions. US-led air strikes bombed targets outside of the city, according to eyewitnesses watching from the Turkish border.
Islamic State doesn’t appear to be able to mass troops for a final assault because of coalition air power. But it is believed they already have about 9,000 fighters in the city itself.
Raids on Islamic State around Kobani have been stepped up, with the fate of the town seen as an important test for U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign against the Islamists.
NATO member Turkey, whose forces are ranged along the border overlooking Kobani, is reluctant to intervene. It insists the allies should also confront Assad to end Syria’s civil war, which has killed close to 200,000 people since March 2011.
“We had the most intense clashes in days, perhaps a week, last night. (Islamic State) attacked from three different sides including the municipality building and the market place,” said Abdulrahman Gok, a journalist in Kobani.
“Clashes did not stop until the morning. We have had an early morning walk inside the city and have seen lots of damaged cars on the streets and unexploded mortar shells,” he said.
The Observatory reported two Islamic State car bombs hit Kurdish positions on Saturday evening, leading to casualties. A cloud of black smoke towered over Kobani on Sunday.
A fighter from one of the female units of the main Syrian Kurdish militia in Kobani, YPG, said Kurdish fighters were able to detonate the car bombs before they reached their targets.
“Last night there were clashes all across Kobani … this morning the clashes are still ongoing,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Observatory said 70 Islamic State fighters had been killed in the past two days, according to sources at the hospital in the nearby town of Tel Abyab, where Islamic State bodies are taken. Reuters cannot independently confirm the reports due to security restrictions.
The Observatory said some Syrian Arab fighters from the Revolutionaries of Raqqa Brigade, who are fighting alongside Kurdish fighters, had executed two Islamic State captives.
“One was a child of around 15 years old. They shot them in the head,” he said.
Islamic State have also used executions throughout their campaigns in Syria and Iraq, killing hundreds of enemy combatants and civilians who oppose their cause, according to Islamic State videos and statements.
Seventy dead in two days is a high casualty total and it raises the question what price IS is willing to pay to capture the town. The month long siege has cost them several thousand casualties and with coalition air power proving to be a powerful obstacle to success, they are already engaged in a conflict of diminishing returns.
But the propaganda value of capturing Kobani would be great. It would maintain an aura of invincibility with jihadists around the world as well as exposing the Obama policy in Syria as a hollow reed. That alone is probably worth the cost of continuing the assault.