White House ‘deeply concerned’ as ISIS threatens Kurdish town

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The White House is "deeply concerned" by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) advance on Kobani, a town on the Turkish-Syrian border, press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

Earnest conceded that President Obama’s decision not to use U.S. ground troops to fight the radical terror group "limits our capabilities in this region." Unlike in Iraq, where government forces have assisted the U.S. air campaign against ISIS, "that sort of a ground operation doesn’t currently exist" in Syria, he said.

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"That will limit the effectiveness of the United States military to have the same kind of impact on the situation in Kobani," Earnest added.

Despite 11 military airstrikes over the past 36 hours, ISIS troops have continued to advance on the primarily Kurdish town just seven miles from the Turkish border. Human rights officials have warned that the Kurdish townspeople there face slaughter at the hands of ISIS if coalition airstrikes are unable to turn the tide.

Earnest appeared to suggest that the U.S. may ask Turkey, which voted earlier this week to authorize military action against ISIS, to intervene on the ground. 

"The question is, how can Turkey’s unique capabilities be integrated into this broader international effort?" Earnest said, noting that Gen. John Allen, who is coordinating coalition efforts against ISIS, is heading to Ankara, Turkey, on Thursday.

"There is a significant and robust coordination between the United States and Turkey," Earnest said, "but the question is, how do you integrate their efforts into the broader international coalition."

But it’s unclear whether Turkey would move to intervene on behalf of the Kurds, an ethnic minority that has long sought to form its own state, efforts opposed by Ankara.

Earnest would only say the U.S. was "concerned," when pressed specifically on whether saving Kobani is a strategic objective for the U.S. The U.S. did intervene on humanitarian grounds, among other reasons, when ISIS surrounded ethnic minorities in Iraq.

"Kobani is a place where the brutality of ISIL is on full display,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the group. “It is something that we’re concerned about. It’s something that we’re acting against.”

Earnest did say the actions of ISIS "bolsters the moral case that this president and other world leaders have made about the necessity of the international community to act in the face of this extremist organization."

Earlier Wednesday, the Pentagon acknowledged that Kobani may fall to ISIS.

"This group's not going to go away tomorrow. And Kobani may fall. We can't predict whether it will or it won't. There will be other towns that they will threaten and there will be other towns that they take. It's going to take a bit of time," Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said on CNN.

The White House denied that the potential loss was evidence that the president's strategy to "degrade and destroy" ISIS was failing.

"We have succeeded in taking out certain elements of their command-and-control structure," Earnest said. "We have succeeded in destroying some elements of their logistical capacity, including some oil refineries. We have succeeded in shutting down some of the channels through which [ISIS] receives its financial support.

“So we have made progress in degrading [ISIS]," he said.