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British jets take out Islamic State weapons post and machine gun vehicle

IS fighters near the Turkish border were among the targets of the strikes.

Mideast Iraq Source: AP/Press Association Images

US WARPLANES LAUNCHED multiple strikes against Islamic State jihadists in Iraq and Syria today, seeking to turn up the heat, as Britain carried out its first air raids against the group.

IS fighters closing in on a key town near the Turkish border were among the targets of nearly a dozen US air raids in Syria, the Pentagon said.

US warplanes also bombed IS in neighbouring Iraq as Kurdish forces launched attacks on three fronts in a bid to recapture ground lost to the group last month.

Britain said its jets had destroyed an IS heavy weapons post and a machinegun-mounted vehicle in the country’s first air strikes against the group in Iraq.

Turkey Syria Refugees Turkish tanks roll to take positions along the Turkey-Syria border near Suruc Source: AP/Press Association Images

IS fighters have captured large parts of Iraq and Syria, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” and committing a wide range of atrocities.

But Tuesday it freed more than 70 Kurdish school children it abducted in northern Syria in May, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.

It was not immediately clear why IS released the children, part of a group of about 153 students snatched after taking school exams.

The move came as IS fighters penetrated within two to three kilometres (as close as 1.2 miles) of the Syrian town of Ain al-Arab on the Turkish border, the Observatory said.

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

Turkey could enter fray

Mideast Iraq An Iraqi Shiite militiaman aims his weapon after clashes with militants from the Islamic State group, in Jurf al-Sakhar Source: AP/Press Association Images

NATO member Turkey, after months of caution in the fight against IS, has decided to harden its policy, and the government asked parliament Tuesday to authorise military action against IS in Iraq and Syria.

Lawmakers are due to debate a motion on Thursday that Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said would “meet all the demands and eliminate the risks and threats”.

Ankara is being pressed to allow the transit of its territory by Western and Arab forces carrying out strikes and to allow US jets to conduct sorties from its Incirlik air base.

But it could also go further by sending Turkish military forces to join the attacks.

Turkey has remained tight-lipped about what its intervention will entail, but Arinc indicated the parliamentary mandate will be kept as broad as possible to allow the government freedom to decide.

In Iraq, Kurdish peshmerga forces battled to claw back land from jihadists, as US warplanes launched 11 strikes at several locations, destroying armed vehicles and IS positions.

They struck at the border town of Rabia, north of jihadist-controlled Mosul, and south of oil hub Kirkuk, commanders said.

They also attacked the town of Zumar, near the reservoir of Iraq’s largest dam, which has been a key battleground between Kurds and jihadists.

Peshmerga spokesman Halgord Hekmat said IS had been ousted from 30 positions.

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Kurdish officials said at least six peshmerga and police were killed, as well as an unknown number of jihadists.

US war costs rise

Mideast Iraq Source: AP/Press Association Images

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 could swiftly escalate.

US aircraft have flown more than 4,000 sorties since August, including surveillance flights, refuelling runs and bombing raids, the military said.

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

If attacks 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.

The UN says about 191,000 people have been killed since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad erupted in 2011, escalating into a war that brought jihadists flocking to the country.

The Observatory said at least eight people were killed today, among them four children, when regime helicopters dropped explosives-packed barrel bombs on northern Aleppo.

The number of Syrians in urgent need of food aid has shot up to more than six million, or more than one in four of the population, UN agencies said.

- © AFP, 2014

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