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Activists: US-led Airstrikes Killed 553 in Syria

by VOA News October 23, 2014

Syrian activists said a month of U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria has killed 553 people, mostly militants from the Islamic State group and al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday the deaths include 464 Islamic State fighters and 32 civilians.

The group, which has tracked the violence in Syria throughout the country's civil war, said it believes even more Islamic State militants have actually died but remain unreported because of difficulties in accessing some of the airstrike sites.

Also Thursday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said a deal had been reached to send 200 Iraq Kurdish peshmerga fighters through Turkey to help defend the Syrian border town of Kobani against Islamic State militants.

Peshmerga to be deployed

A senior official in Iraq's Kurdistan region told Reuters the peshmerga would be equipped with heavier weapons than those being used by Kurdish fighters in Kobani, who say they need armor-piercing weapons to fend off Islamic State fighters.

Peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hikmat told Reuters that preparations to deploy to Kobani were going on, but it would not happen on Thursday.

Erdogan spoke after Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers on Wednesday approved sending the fighters. The move marks the semi-autonomous region's first military foray into Syria's war.

Late Wednesday, Syrian Kurdish factions signed a deal to share power and set aside rivalries to capitalize on growing international support for their fight against Islamic State militants.

The agreement was reached after nine days of talks and coincided with a decision by Iraqi Kurdistan to send its own peshmerga forces to reinforce fellow Kurds in Kobani.

Kurds have taken advantage of more than three years of civil war in Syria to carve out their own zone of influence in the north of the country, but have been beset by internal rivalries.

Earlier this year, the dominant Democratic Union Party (PYD) established three "cantons" in northern Syria and declared self-rule, but other Kurdish parties rejected the move.

Wednesday's deal, which was signed in Iraqi Kurdistan under the auspices of the region's President Masoud Barzani, puts decision-making in the hands of a new body in which all parties will be represented.

Airstrikes

U.S. military forces again focused airstrikes on Kobani in their campaign to turn back Islamic State forces and also hit oil facilities held by the militant group, the U.S. Central Command said on Thursday.

A total of 15 strikes were staged against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria on Wednesday and Thursday, according to Central Command.

The statement said U.S. fighter and bomber aircraft staged four strikes near the key border city of Kobani, destroying an Islamic State control center and fighting positions in an area that has often been targeted this month, and two more that knocked out oil tanks east of Dawr Az Zawr.

Four air strikes by U.S. and allied forces in Iraq near the vital Mosul Dam hit small Islamic State units and destroyed a vehicle while another attack near Bayji took out a fighting position. Four strikes in the Fallujah area targeted a training facility, a larger Islamic State unit and a building.

Islamic State militants, keen to consolidate territorial gains in northern Syria, has pressed an offensive on Kobani even as U.S.-led forces continue bombing the militants' positions.

U.S. and partner nation planes have carried out more than 200 airstrikes in Syria since September 22, as part of an expanded effort to halt the Islamic State group.

At least 300 coalition airstrikes have also targeted the group in Iraq, where the militants swept through large areas of the northern and western part of the country in recent months.

Bundle of weapons goes to IS

Meanwhile, the Pentagon said a stray bundle of weapons and ammunitions that U.S. cargo planes intended to airdrop to Kurds in northern Syria did likely end up in the hands of Islamic State fighters.

Spokesman Steve Warren said Wednesday that 26 of 28 bundles dropped over Kobani were picked up by Kurds, but that two went astray. Warren said U.S. forces destroyed one, while the other was probably picked up by militants.

Video from a pro-Islamic State media group shows a masked fighter inspecting hand grenades, ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers as he voiced delight.

But Warren said the weapons are not enough to give the militants any type of advantage as they battle Kurdish defenders for control of Kobani.

On Thursday, the battle for strategic town of Kobani was raging on as gunshots rang out throughout the morning and echoed across to the Turkish side of the border.

Refugees in Turkey told VOA that residents in Kobani said there was heavy fighting overnight. The sound of heavy firing of mortars, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), possibly heavy machine guns and some lighter weapons also was heard around mid-day.

Correspondent Scott Bobb contributed to this report from Turkey. Some material for this report came from Reuters.



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