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U.S.-led coalition ramps up strikes on Syrian town

MURSITPINAR, Turkey — The U.S.-led coalition intensified its aerial bombardment of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria positions Thursday in the Syrian border town of Kobani as the extremist group fought street battles with Kurdish forces and reportedly rushed in reinforcements.

The battle for the town near the frontier with Turkey has emerged as a major early test for the air campaign aimed at rolling back and eventually destroying the extremist group.

It has also strained ties between Washington and Ankara over the long-term U.S. strategy in Syria. On Thursday, the U.S. special envoy for the coalition, retired Marine Gen. John Allen, and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg were in Turkey to press the country to join military operations.

Turkish officials have said that while they do not want Kobani to fall, they will not take on a greater role until the coalition outlines a broader strategy that also includes attacking Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is best positioned to benefit from any rollback of ISIS.

But attacking Assad's regime "is not the focus of our international coalition and not the focus of our efforts by the United States," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Turkey also has called for creation of a buffer zone inside Syria to secure the border, but the White House and Pentagon said Wednesday the United States isn't considering that option.

In Kobani, columns of smoke rose as warplanes buzzed overhead Thursday. Two strong explosions — apparently from an airstrike — echoed from the edge of the town, a cluster of low-slung concrete buildings nestled in rolling hills.

The coalition airstrikes have forced some ISIS militants out of Kobani. The U.S. Central Command said five attacks south of Kobani since Wednesday had destroyed an ISIS support building and two vehicles, and damaged a training camp. Two groups of ISIS fighters were hit, Central Command said.

But the Pentagon has said the town may yet fall to the extremists because air power alone cannot prevent it.