NEW: U.S. Central Command: Seven more airstrikes hit ISIS targets in Syria
Syrian Kurds giving U.S. forces intelligence on ISIS positions, official says
ISIS' focus on Kobani is helping U.S., allies destroy the militant group, a general says
Gen. Lloyd Austin says Kobani still could fall, despite U.S. and allied efforts
Fevered efforts by ISIS to capture the embattled Syrian city of Kobani have handed U.S. and allied forces a prime opportunity to deal the extremist group a bloody nose, the U.S. Central Command’s top general told reporters Friday.
By pouring what Gen. Lloyd Austin described as “legions” of fighters into the city, ISIS commanders have given allied warplanes numerous targets to attack.
“The more I attrit him there,” Austin said of ISIS, using a common military term for grinding down an enemy’s power, “the less I’ll have to fight him on some other part of the battlefield.”
The U.S. military carried out seven airstrikes in northern Syria and coalition aircraft carried out two more near Baiji, north of Tikrit in Iraq, the U.S. Central Command (Centcom) said on Friday. Six of the airstrikes occurred near Kobani, hitting and destroying ISIS buildings, positions, and vehicles, Centcom said.
The seventh strike in Syria successfully struck an ISIS-controlled oil installation near Shadadi, a city between the provinces of Deir Ezzor and al-Hasaka in northeastern Syria, according to Centcom.
U.S. fighter jets also flew at least 14 missions against ISIS targets near Kobani on Wednesday and Thursday, striking buildings, command posts, sniper positions and a staging location, according to Centcom.
CNN has learned that the U.S. military for the first time is getting intelligence from Syrian Kurds about ISIS positions in and around Kobani, according to an administration official who confirmed the details, but declined to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the information.
This flow of intelligence for the last several days has led to increased and more precise airstrikes, according to the official.
The strikes brought the number of missions flown against targets in the city to 129, by CNN’s calculation, the most of any town in the three-week-old Syrian portion of the fight against ISIS.
Austin said Friday that the increased number of airstrikes near Kobani aren’t due to a change in attitudes, but rather the presence of so many ISIS targets as the group fights Syrian Kurdish fighters for control of the city.
Despite apparent advances in recent days by Syrian Kurdish fighters defending Kobani, Austin warned that the city may yet fall.
But he said recent successes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq are encouraging signs that the broad coalition effort to ultimately destroy the extremist group is beginning to bear fruit.
“The campaign is on the right track. We’re doing the right things, and we’re having the – creating the right effects,” he said.
U.S. officials have said in recent weeks that it is not essential to keep Kobani from falling into ISIS hands.
But retired U.S. Army Gen. Mark Kimmitt told CNN on Friday that with the eyes of the world on the fight, Kobani holds psychological and public relations value that “far outweighs the military victory to whichever side that wins.”
The intelligence sharing between U.S. and Syrian Kurds in Kobani signifies an unprecedented level of U.S. military cooperation with operatives on the ground inside Syria.
The intelligence operation is extremely sensitive and involves only a small number of Kurds, according to the administration official.
Those involved are passing intelligence through their own contacts in Syria and Iraq, and then the information is handed over to U.S. military personnel in Irbil, Iraq, who are working on selecting targets for airstrikes, the administration official said.
A number of recent airstrikes in and around Kobani have been highly precise. The Kurds are now able to pass information about the locations of ISIS fighters in the town, the administration official said.
The Pentagon has declined to openly discuss the intelligence operation with the Syrian Kurds, and Austin did not address the issue at his briefing Friday.