Iraqi peshmerga fighters prepare for Syria battle
MURSITPINAR, Turkey (AP) -- Iraqi peshmerga fighters prepared Saturday to battle Islamic State group militants in the Syrian border town of Kobani, just hours after they arrived in a town that's become a focal point in the battle against the extremists.
The force brought in badly needed heavy weapons including artillery, heavy machine guns and anti-tank missiles, material that could tip the balance of power in favor of the embattled Kurds fighting there.
Shorsh Hassan, a spokesman for the People's Protection Units, or YPG, said the peshmerga and the YPG are preparing a role for Iraqi Kurdish troops. Hassan's comments came after some 150 peshmerga fighters on Friday night entered Kobani to fight the extremist group that controls parts of the town.
"The priority will be to recapture Kobani neighborhoods that were taken by Daesh and then the goal is to liberate all villages in the countryside of Kobani," Hassan said by telephone from Kobani, using an Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday that the peshmerga force had yet to take part in any battles in Kobani.
Since mid-September, Islamic State group fighters have captured dozens of predominantly Kurdish villages near Kobani and entered the town they have been trying to capture for weeks. More than 200,000 people have fled to Turkey and more than 800 people have died, activists say.
Islamic State group positions in Kobani also have been targeted by more than 150 airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition over the past weeks.
The Observatory said the Islamic State group launched another offensive Friday night on YPG-held areas in Kobani but failed to advance. The group, which relies on reports from activists on the ground in Syria, said that more than 100 jihadi fighters have been killed over the past three days in the clashes, as well as the U.S.-led airstrikes.
An Associated Press reporter on the Turkish side of the border facing Kobani said it sounded like several explosions struck the town early Saturday, though no more information about them was immediately available.
The U.S. Central Command said Friday that American warplanes conducted four airstrikes near Kobani, damaging four Islamic State fighting positions and one building occupied by the group.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.