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Islamic State Nearly Out of Kobani     01/26 06:37

   IBEIRUT (AP) -- The extremist Islamic State group has nearly been pushed out 
of the Syrian border town of Kobani, activists and Kurdish officials said 
Monday, marking a major symbolic victory both for the Kurds and the U.S.-led 
coalition targeting the militants.

   The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and senior Kurdish 
official Idriss Nassan said the Islamic State group had been nearly expelled, 
with some sporadic fighting on the eastern edges of the city near Turkey.

   "The Islamic State is on the verge of defeat," said Nassan, speaking from 
Turkey near the Syrian border. "Their defenses have collapsed and its fighters 
have fled."

   In September, Islamic State fighters began capturing some 300 Kurdish 
villages near Kobani and thrust into the town itself, occupying nearly half of 
it. Tens of thousands of refugees spilled across the border into Turkey.

   By October, Islamic State control of Kobani was so widespread that it even 
made a propaganda video from the town featuring a captive British 
photojournalist, John Cantlie, to convey its message that Islamic State 
fighters had pushed deep inside despite U.S.-led airstrikes.

   The town, whose capture would have given the jihadi group control of a 
border crossing with Turkey and open direct lines between its positions along 
the border, quickly became a centerpiece of the U.S.-led air campaign in Syria. 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared it would be "morally very 
difficult" not to help Kobani.

   The U.S.-led air assault began Sept. 23, with Kobani the target of about a 
half-dozen airstrikes on average each day, and often more. More than 80 percent 
of all coalition airstrikes in Syria have been in or around the town.

   Analysts, as well as Syrian and Kurdish activists, credit the air campaign 
and the arrival of heavily armed Kurdish peshmerga fighters from Iraq, who 
neutralized the Islamic State group's artillery advantage, for bringing key 
areas of Kobani under Kurdish control.

   Nassan said U.S.-led coalition strikes became more intense in the past few 
days, helping Kurdish fighters in their final push toward Islamic State group 
positions on the southern and eastern edges of the town.

   He said he was preparing to head into Kobani on Tuesday and expected the 
town to be fully free by then.

   Since mid-September, the battle for Kobani has killed some 1,600 people, 
including 1,075 Islamic State group members, 459 Kurdish fighters and 32 
civilians, the Observatory reported earlier this month. The Islamic State 
group, increasingly under pressure, has carried out more than 35 suicide 
attacks in Kobani in recent weeks, activists say. 


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