The US-led coalition launched 12 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria Monday and another ten strikes in Iraq, the US military said, as the militant group lost territory in the Kurdish border town of Ain al-Arab.
A statement by the Combined Joint Task Force said the strikes in Iraq hit near the strategic northern Iraqi town of Sinjar as well as near Asad, Tal Afar, Ramadi, Mosul and Fallujah. They destroyed six units of ISIS fighters as well as a weapons factory, numerous buildings and several vehicles, it said.
In Syria, the dozen strikes centered around the border town of Ain al-Arab as well as in Aleppo, Hassakeh and Raqqa provinces, destroying various fighting positions, vehicles and a group of fighters, the statement said.
Kurdish fighters captured a cultural center in Ain al-Arab, known by its Kurdish name Kobani, that they had laid siege to over the weekend.
An activist based in the town, located on the border with Turkey, said the center “is very important morally and militarily” as it is located on a hill that overlooks neighborhoods east and southeast of the town.
“This will change the military rhythm in the coming days,” said Mustafa Bali adding that the aim of Kurdish fighters in Syria is to evict ISIS militants from Ain al-Arab and nearby villages.
ISIS began its offensive in mid-September, and quickly overran much of the town as well as almost all of the surrounding villages. Hundreds of fighters on both sides have been killed since.
Idriss Nassan, a local official, said that over the past days the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia “has taken the initiative” and advanced in ISIS-held neighborhoods.
Nassan said peshmerga fighters from Iraq usually bombard ISIS positions in the town while YPG fighters carry out the ground attack with the help of airstrikes that target militant positions.
In Deir al-Zor province to the east there were reports of dissent within the ranks of ISIS, which is besieging a military airport on the outskirts of the provincial capital.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based, anti-regime group, said ISIS was grappling with tension between Syrian and non-Syrian members. It said the group’s former governor or “wali” for the province it calls Al-Kheir, a Syrian, had asked to be reinstated following his dismissal earlier this year.
Amer Rafdan, a native of Deir al-Zor province, was replaced by an Iraqi national on the grounds that most of the militants from the group in the area were non-Syrians, the Observatory said.
Rafdan then tried to recruit members of local rebel groups to join ISIS in a bid to tip the balance but they declined, it added.
The Observatory said that tension was rising because ISIS has allocated its top leadership posts in Deir al-Zor to non-Syrians, on the pretext that they make up the majority of the group there, while locals are angry because the majority of casualties in battles to take the military airport have been Syrians.A failed weekend attack on the airport, the Observatory said Sunday, killed 20 ISIS militants – a Moroccan and 19 Syrians.
Separately, an anti-regime activist group in Deir al-Zor said Monday that at least 30 Syrian members of ISIS had fled for Turkey, after they were ordered to travel to either Ain al-Arab or areas in Iraq.
Elsewhere, Syrian government aircraft pounded rebels and jihadis besieging a military airport in Abu Dhuhur, Idlib, while at least four elementary school children were killed and ten wounded when a regime airstrike hit their bus in Idlib province, the Observatory said. The incident took place near the village of Jubas, and the toll was expected to rise.
Fierce clashes were also reported in the south of the country, in Sheikh Miskeen in Deraa province, pitting the army and Hezbollah fighters against mainstream and Islamist militias along with the Nusra Front.
Helicopters dropped a dozen crude “barrel bombs” on the insurgents, the Observatory said, while the military commander of the rebel Tawhid militia in southern Syria was killed in the fighting.
Separately, Jordan will begin training the first group of army troops from Iraq in the next few weeks as part of the effort to fight ISIS, the Iraqi defense minister said. Speaking after meeting Jordanian King Abdullah, Khaled al-Obeidi said Amman would also supply the Iraqi army with arms needed for its struggle against the group.
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