Air strikes by the U.S. military and coalition partners against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continued for a fifth day on Saturday, as Britain launched aircraft for the first time over Iraq and Turkey signaled it could join the coalition against the militant group.
U.S. Central Command said the strikes hit seven targets in Syria, including an ISIS building and two armed vehicles at the border crossing in the besieged Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab, also known as Kobane.
Other air strikes in Syria included ISIS vehicles and buildings near Al-Hasakah, as well as an ISIS command and control facility near Minbej, near the western limit of the group's control, CentCom said.
"An ISIL[ISIS]-held airfield, an ISIL [ISIS] garrison and an ISIL [ISIS] training camp near Raqqa were damaged," it added.
The militants have made Raqqa the headquarters of the “caliphate” they declared in June straddling swathes of Iraq and Syria.
The strikes were carried out by U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft as well as by warplanes from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, the statement said.
Three air strikes in Iraq also destroyed four ISIS armed vehicles and a "fighting position" southwest of Erbil, Centcom said.
Britain launches warplanes
Britain, whose parliament overwhelmingly authorized air strikes against ISIS in Iraq, launched several Royal Air Force aircraft on their first mission over Iraq but without striking targets.
Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 combat jets returned to Britain's RAF Akrotiri base on Cyprus without dropping any of their load of Paveway IV laser-guided bombs, after a seven-hour mission that began before dawn from the Mediterranean island.
"On this occasion no targets were identified as requiring immediate air attack by our aircraft," a defense ministry spokesman said.
However, the jets' surveillance gathered information that will "help acquire potential targets for future operations, either by aircraft or Iraqi ground forces," the spokesman said.
ISIS approaches Kobani
The air strikes failed to stop ISIS from pressing their assault on Ain al-Arab, a strategic Syrian town near the Turkish border, hitting it with shell fire for the first time, Reuters news agency, quoting the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported.
The activist group said IS was able to shell eastern parts of Kobani, wounding several people, in a sign that its fighters were drawing closer.
The insurgents' offensive against the Kurdish town has prompted around 150,000 refugees to pour across the border into Turkey since last week.
Signs of Turkish role
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday Ankara could take a military role in the coalition as Ankara moves to take a frontline position in the campaign, the Hurriyet daily reported Saturday.
In comments made aboard his presidential plane to Turkish reporters as he travelled back from the United States, Erdogan also indicated he backed the use of ground troops inside Syria, Hurriyet reported on its website.
Erdogan already signaled at a news conference Friday after his return from New York that Turkey was shifting its position to adopt a more frontline role in the fight against ISIS.
But the comments aboard the plane strongly indicated Turkey would move to play a military role once the government wins approval from parliament at a planned debate on Oct. 2.
"It's wrong to say that Turkey will not take any kind of military position. Turkey will do whatever is its duty to do," Erdogan said.
The president also reaffirmed his calls for buffer and no-fly zones to ensure the safety of Turkish borders and the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled there, indicating ground forces would be necessary for this.
"You are not going to be able to finish off a terrorist group just with air strikes," he said.
"At some point ground forces will be fundamental.
"Of course, I am not a soldier, but air (forces) are about logistics. If ground troops do not go, then nothing is going to be permanent," he said.
Erdogan praised the United States for its air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq, saying without them the future of Iraqi Kurdistan would have been in danger.
He said the Turkish government would go to parliament with a motion on Oct. 2 and after this "all the necessary steps" would be taken for Turkey's involvement in the coalition.