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U.S. airstrikes help push ISIS back in Kobani

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(CNN) — The increased number of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in the Syrian city of Kobani reflects more targets of opportunity, not a change in the campaign against the vicious Islamist group, a Pentagon spokesman said Thursday.

The strikes are helping Kurdish fighters on the ground push back ISIS militants in the Syrian town, according to sources there.

“There’s been no strategic shift here, as far as I know, at least from the military perspective, about Kobani or any other town,” Rear Adm. John Kirby said, making a unique appearance at the State Department’s daily briefing.

In recent weeks, administration and U.S. defense officials have said it wasn’t essential to keep the city, not far from the border with Turkey, from becoming the latest in Syria to fall into ISIS hands.

“We never said Kobani didn’t matter,” Kirby said. “What makes Kobani matter for us from an airstrike perspective is that (ISIS is) there, and that they want it.”

Kirby said the number of airstrikes in Syria or Iraq depends on how “target rich” an area is. The past few days around Kobani have seen more ISIS targets, he said. There are more ISIS fights there with more force, Kirby said.

U.S. fighter jets conducted at least 14 raids near Kobani on Wednesday and Thursday, according to U.S. Central Command.

Initial reports show the strikes hit 19 ISIS buildings and 10 other targets, including command posts, sniper positions and a staging location, the U.S. military said. According to CNN’s math, that makes 122 strikes on the city, most of any town in what the military recently labeled Operation Inherent Resolve.

Street by street

The battle for Kobani has become a street fight over control of hills and neighborhoods and witnessed by TV cameras pointed there from Turkey.

These strikes on small targets in Kobani, such as sniper positions, are “tactical” in nature — without the widespread “strategic” affect against ISIS that U.S. officials have said is the foundation for the U.S. operation in Syria, a senior U.S. military official told CNN’s Barbara Starr.

“It’s not ‘whack-a-mole,’ ” Kirby said. “The idea isn’t to just put a warhead on a forehead every single day. The idea is to try to get at their ability to sustain themselves and to disrupt their strategy.”

One Kurdish fighter told CNN Thursday that ISIS has been forced from many parts of the city, but still controls some key buildings including the hospital and the important Asayish building in the middle of Kobani, which served as headquarters for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.

Kurdish forces have control of the southwest entrance of the city and have taken some buildings back from ISIS fighters in one neighborhood, next to the heavily contested eastern industrial area of the city.

The airstrikes over the past few days have helped Kurdish YPG fighters turn into an offensive rather than a defensive force, one activist said.

But, he adds, “there is still street fighting in the east and in the south” of Kobani.

“This is an infantry battle now and traditional reconnaissance does not work,” said Anthony Cordesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It’s hard to get correct information, making the results of the airstrikes indecisive, he said.

A U.S. Defense officials told CNN that good weather played a role in the Kobani airstrikes, because the targets were readily located by overhead surveillance. In Iraq on the other hand, bad weather has forced a slowdown in strikes, the official said.

ISIS pushing ahead in Iraq?

Militants have tightened their grip over an area about 15 miles south of Fallujah, an Anbar province official said Thursday.

ISIS has brought many of its fighters, armed with heavy weaponry and machinery, in order to attack and control the town of Amiryat al-Falluja, the head of the town’s council, Shaker Mahmoud, said Thusday.

Mahmoud urged the Iraqi government to send military reinforcements to support the security forces inside the town.

ISIS advances have slowed and the group has changed formation, communication and tactics making them “harder to hit,” Kirby said. He called for “strategic patience” in measuring the success of the operation.

Militants continue to surround a major airbase in the Iraq’s Anbar province and U.S. officials say they’re continuing airstrikes there to help Iraqi forces.

“In Anbar province, our hope is to stop or halt that tactical initiative and momentum that they (ISIS) have,” Gen. John Allen, the special presidential envoy on ISIS, said Wednesday. It is clear that ISIS “has made substantial gains in Iraq,” he said.

A senior U.S. military official told CNN the fight in Anbar is “very tough,” but “Iraqi forces are holding their own in some places.” U.S. officials do not see the Ein Al-Assad military base in Anbar on the verge of being overrun by ISIS, the official said.

ISIS car bomb in Baghdad

At least five people were killed and 15 were injured when two car bombs exploded in the al-Hurriya Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad Thursday, according to police. At least two people died when another car bomb exploded at a security checkpoint near al-Talbiya Bridge in eastern Baghdad.

ISIS released a statement claiming responsibility for the bombings.

CNN’s Ingrid Formanek, Hamdi Alkhshali and Kareem Khadder contributed to this story

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