The Islamic State group is about to capture the Syrian border town of Kobani, Turkey's president said Tuesday, as outgunned Kurdish forces struggled to repel the extremists with limited aid from U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
Islamic State fighters using tanks and heavy weapons looted from captured army bases in Iraq and Syria have been pounding Kurdish forces in the strategic town for days, and planted their black flag on the town's outskirts after seizing several nearby villages in an offensive launched last month.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the coalition air campaign launched last month would not be enough to halt the Islamic State advance and called for greater cooperation with the Syrian opposition, which is fighting both the Islamic State and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"Kobani is about to fall," he told Syrian refugees in the Turkish town of Gaziantep, near the border.
"We asked for three things: One, for a no-fly zone to be created; two, for a secure zone parallel to the region to be declared; and for the moderate opposition in Syria and Iraq to be trained and equipped."
Turkish tanks and other ground forces have been stationed along the border within a few hundred meters of the fighting in Kobani - also known as Ayn Arab - but have not intervened.
The latest round of airstrikes began late Monday and came as Kurdish forces pushed Islamic State militants out of the eastern part of Kobani, where the jihadists had raised their black flag over buildings hours earlier, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On Tuesday morning journalists on the Turkish side of the border heard the sound of warplanes before two large plumes of smoke billowed just west of Kobani.
The US-led coalition has launched several airstrikes over the past two weeks near Kobani in a bid to help Kurdish forces defend the town, but the sorties appear to have done little to slow the Islamic State group's advance.
Erdogan said more than 200,000 people have fled the fighting in and around Kobani in recent weeks. Their flight is among the largest single exoduses of the three-year Syrian conflict.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists across Syria, said Tuesday that 412 people have been killed since the Kobani fighting began.
On Tuesday morning, occasional gunfire could be heard in Kobani. A flag of the main Kurdish force known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, was seen flying over a hill in central Kobani.
Turkey has long suspected the YPG is linked to the Kurdish PKK, which waged a long and bloody insurgency against Ankara, while the Syrian opposition has accused the group of conspiring with Assad, charges the YPG denies.
On Monday, jihadi fighters raised two of their black flags on the outskirts of Kobani and punctured the Kurdish front lines, advancing into the town itself.
But the Observatory said the Kurds forced the jihadists to withdraw from the eastern part of the town in heavy clashes after midnight. It said five loud explosions were heard in the town as warplanes soared overhead.
The Observatory said the jihadists were meanwhile able to capture several buildings on the southern edge of Kobani as well as a hospital under construction on the western side.
The Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, also reported coalition airstrikes on the eastern province of Deir el-Zour.
The United States and five Arab allies launched an aerial campaign against the Islamic State in Syria on Sept. 23 with the aim of rolling back and ultimately crushing the extremist group. The U.S. has been bombing Islamic State targets in neighboring Iraq since August.
The Islamic State group has conquered vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, declaring a self-styled caliphate governed by a harsh version of Shariah law. The militants have massacred captured Syrian and Iraqi troops, terrorized minorities and beheaded two American journalists and two British aid workers.