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Obama, Military Leaders to Discuss Islamic State Strategy

President Barack Obama and American military commanders are to meet Tuesday with foreign defense chiefs to discuss their coalition efforts to combat Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

A spokesman for General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the upcoming talks at Andrews Air Force Base just outside Washington will cover the challenges of the operation and a vision for the way forward.

Representatives from about 20 countries, including Turkey, are expected to take part.

Turkish officials denied Monday that they have reached an agreement with the United States for the U.S.-led coalition to use an air base in southern Turkey to launch attacks against Islamic State fighters.

U.S. officials said Sunday discussions were ongoing, but that Turkey had cleared the use of Incirlik air base, about 100 kilometers from the Syrian border.

Fighting continues in Kobani

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Click to enlarge

Meanwhile, bombers and fighter jets from the United States and Saudi Arabia carried out more airstrikes Monday near Kobani, Syria, where Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants continued fierce fighting for control of the border town.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said five airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition targeted Islamic State positions since Monday night.

Activists in the region said Kurdish fighters captured a strategic hill near the town and took down a black Islamic State flag.

On Tuesday, the International Energy Agency credited the U.S.-led airstrikes with significantly reducing the Islamic State militants' ability to produce, smuggle and refine oil, according to the agency's monthly report, which cited Western and Iraqi officials.

The coalition's targeting of Islamic State-held oil infrastructure has knocked crude production down to around 20,000 barrels per day (bpd) from a high of about 70,000 bpd achieved after the group expanded its territory over the summer, the report said.

In addition, the governments of Turkey and Iraq's Kurdistan Region have cracked down on the Islamic State group's smuggling of crude oil, which had brought in revenue estimated at $1 million to $3 million for the radical Sunni Islamist group.

The crackdown has cut smuggling to less than 10,000 bpd from a high of 30,000 bpd, unnamed officials said in the report.

The United States and its allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, began launching air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq in August, and in Syria in September, including targeted strikes against oilfields and refineries controlled by the group.

In Kobani, an official said the insurgents had surrounded the town on three sides, all but the northern entry closest to Turkey, and voiced fears that access to the town could be cut off if the militants encircle it.

French President Francois Hollande also warned that Kobani "could at any moment fall into the hands of the terrorists."

Hollande urged Turkey to open its border with Syria to allow Kurdish reinforcements to reach the embattled town.

Disagreement over military aid

On Tuesday, a senior Iraqi Kurdish official said Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has provided military aid to Kurdish fighters in the embattled city.

“We helped them in roughly every arena. We sent them aid, including military,” said Hamid Darbandi, the KRG official responsible for Syrian Kurdish affairs.

He declined to provide further details.

However, the Syrian Kurds in the town said they had received nothing so far.

A Syrian Kurdish official in the region said the weapons had been sent as a “symbolic” arms shipment, but that it had not reached Kobani because Turkey would not open the transit corridor sought by the Syrian Kurds to allow them to reinforce the town.

The aid, including ammunition for light weapons and mortar shells, is stuck in a Kurdish-controlled region of northeastern Syria, Alan Othman, spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish military council in the area, told Reuters via Skype.

Also Tuesday, the Islamic State gained new support in Pakistan.

The spokesman for the banned militant group Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan and five other commanders pledged their allegiance, saying they consider Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as their caliph and will accept his directives.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.