US-led strikes hit jihadists closing on key Syria border town

US-led strikes hit Islamic State group fighters closing on a key town on Syria's border with Turkey overnight as Ankara prepared Tuesday to request parliamentary authorization to join the coalition.

In neighboring Iraq, Kurdish forces launched pre-dawn attacks against the jihadists on three fronts in a bid to recapture territory they lost to IS last month, entering a key town on the border with Syria, senior officers said.

It was in support of Kurdish forces in northern Iraq that Washington launched its air war against IS on August 8, following a wave of atrocities by the advancing jihadists, before extending it to Syria.

The strikes by the US and its Arab allies against IS targets in Syria are now in their second week but they have yet to stop the jihadists pressing an advance that would give them unbroken control of a swathe of Syria's northern border.

NATO member Turkey reinforced its side of the frontier on Monday as IS fighters penetrated within five kilometres (three miles) of the border town of Ain al-Arab.

It was the closest the militants had come to the town, known as Kobane in Kurdish, since they began their advance nearly two weeks ago, sending tens of thousands of mostly Kurdish refugees across the border.

As they advanced, the jihadists fired at least 15 rockets at the town centre, killing at least one person, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The latest coalition strikes hit IS fighters in nearby villages east and west of the town, said the Observatory, a Britain-based monitoring group that has a wide network of sources inside Syria.

Iraq Kurds advance

Both the coalition and Ankara have been heavily criticized by Kurdish leaders for not doing more to help Kurdish militia forces defending the town against the far better armed jihadists.

The Turkish army was seen deploying tanks and armored vehicles to the town of Mursitpinar, just across the border from Ain al-Arab, on Monday, after stray bullets hit Turkish villages and at least three mortar rounds crashed nearby.

The Turkish government was expected to submit motions to parliament on Tuesday that would give it authorization to intervene against IS in Iraq and Syria.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he expected them to be debated on Thursday.

Turkey had refused to join the coalition while dozens of its citizens – including diplomats and children – were being held by IS after being abducted in Iraq.

After they were freed, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey's position had changed, signalling a more robust stance towards the group.

"We will definitely be where we need to be," Erdogan said on Sunday. "We cannot stay out of this."

In Iraq, Kurdish forces were fighting IS militants in the center of the town of Rabia on the Syrian border, commanders said.

It was one of three fronts on which Kurdish peshmerga fighters launched pre-dawn assaults. They also went on the offensive north of jihadist-controlled second city Mosul, and south of key oil hub Kirkuk, the commanders said.

Troops backed by artillery and warplanes were attacking the town of Zumar, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) northwest of Mosul, near the reservoir of Iraq's largest dam, which has been a key battleground between the Kurds and the jihadists, a senior peshmerga source told AFP

Both Rabia and Zumar were areas which the peshmerga seized in the chaos that followed the jihadists' capture of Mosul in a lightning offensive in early June.

IS forces made a fresh push two months later and inflicted stinging setbacks on the peshmerga, one of the reasons for the US air campaign that began on August 8.

US war costs rise

The officer, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to talk to the press, would not elaborate on whether the air support was Iraqi or provided by Washington or one of its European allies.

With the United States now conducting what it says are "near continuous" strikes in both Iraq and Syria, a Washington-based think-tank warned that the costs of the campaign to the US taxpayer could swiftly escalate.

US aircraft have flown roughly 4,100 sorties in the air war against the jihadists in Iraq and Syria since August, including surveillance flights, refuelling runs and bombing raids, a military officer said Monday.

The Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimated said that when US air strikes against IS in Syria got under way last week, Washington had already spent as much as $930 million (735 million euros) on the campaign against IS.

If air strikes continue at a moderate level, the cost will run at between $200 million and $320 million a month, but if they are conducted at a higher pace the monthly cost could rise to as much as $570 million a month, the think-tank projected.

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