Even as US-led airstrikes continue to target the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria, Washington has urged that the battle against the jihadist group be taken to the internet amid mounting concern over its aggressive recruitment effort.
The United States has forged an alliance of Western and Arab nations to combat the group, and on Monday met with coalition partners in Kuwait City to boost efforts to counter the jihadists’ online propaganda.
Retired US general John Allen, who is coordinating the US-led campaign against IS militants, said the group was promoting its “horrendous brand of warfare” online, where it “recruits and perverts the innocent”.
“It is only when we contest ISIL’s presence online, deny the legitimacy of the message it sends to vulnerable young people… it is only then that ISIL will truly be defeated,” Allen said, using another acronym for the jihadist organisation.
The coalition partners pledged to take steps to boost efforts to prevent the recruitment of foreign fighters for the IS group, including online.
Concern is growing over the group’s online influence in attracting foreign fighters and promoting attacks by disaffected Muslims on Western targets.
Fighting rages in Kobane
Allen’s comments came as fighting continued to rage for the strategic Syrian border town of Kobane, and in Iraq a car bomb explosion on Monday killed at least eight people in Baghdad’s Wathiq Square after a suicide bombing reportedly left at least 14 pro-government fighters dead south of the capital.
An AFP reporter in Turkey just across the border from Kobane said fierce clashes were raging in the town, where Kurdish fighters have been holding off an offensive by IS fighters for weeks.
The US military said its warplanes carried out four more airstrikes near Kobane on Sunday and Monday.
But there was still no sign of promised reinforcements for Kobane’s defenders, despite plans announced last week for Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces armed with heavy weapons to join them.
A senior Iraqi Kurdish official said the deployment was being held up by Turkey, which agreed to allow the peshmerga to pass through its territory.
“We are ready to send them,” said Mustafuz Qader, who heads the ministry responsible for the peshmerga.
Kobane has become a symbol in the battle against the IS group, which has seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq, declaring an Islamic “caliphate”.
A costly air campaign
As the fighting continued, the Pentagon revised up its estimated cost of the air war, saying the price tag for the campaign was about $8.3 million a day.
Since airstrikes began on August 8, the campaign – which has involved about 6,600 sorties by US and allied aircraft – has cost $580 million, said Pentagon spokesman Commander Bill Urban.
The Defense Department had previously put the average daily cost of the military operation at more than $7 million a day.
But independent analysts say the Defense Department is underestimating the genuine cost of the war effort.
Some former budget officials and outside experts estimate the cost of the war has already exceeded a billion dollars, and that it could rise to several billion dollars in a year’s time.
The US has been seeking to build a broader international alliance in the fight against Islamic State militants.
The US military said the coalition had also carried out seven new strikes against IS in Iraq on Sunday and Monday, including near the key Mosul dam and southeast of the militant bastion of Fallujah.
Iraq has struggled to regain territory taken by IS militants in a lightning offensive in June, though it announced at the weekend that its forces had retaken the town of Jurf al-Sakhr south of Baghdad.
Assault on Syrian city
Syrian rebels were meanwhile reported to have launched a major assault on the government-held city of Idlib in a bid to consolidate their control over the country’s northwest.
Fighters of Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and Islamist rebel units attacked the city from all sides from dawn Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The rise of the IS group has destabilised the region, including in Syria’s neighbour Lebanon where weekend clashes killed at least 16 people and forced thousands to flee a part of the country’s second largest city, Tripoli.
Lebanese soldiers quelled Islamist militants in the Tripoli stronghold of Bab al-Tebbaneh and were in full control Monday, earning praise for their courage from the United Sates.
“We condemn those who seek to sow chaos in Lebanon and are confident that the Lebanese people will persevere if they stand united in the face of this threat,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.