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Top story of 2014: Syrian city becomes key battleground in fight with Islamist militants




SURUC, TURKEY - OCTOBER 16: (TURKEY-OUT) Smoke billows in Kobani, Syria following an airstrike by the US-led coalition during fighting between Syrian Kurds and the militants of the Islamic State October 16, 2014 as seen from the outskirts of Suruc, Turkey. According to a local official, Islamic State militants have suffered setbacks and have begun retreating from parts of the beseiged Syrian border town of Kobani as Kurdish forces advance against the militant group. Since mid-September, more than 200,000 people from Kobani have fled into Turkey. (Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images)
SURUC, TURKEY - OCTOBER 16: (TURKEY-OUT) Smoke billows in Kobani, Syria following an airstrike by the US-led coalition during fighting between Syrian Kurds and the militants of the Islamic State October 16, 2014 as seen from the outskirts of Suruc, Turkey. According to a local official, Islamic State militants have suffered setbacks and have begun retreating from parts of the beseiged Syrian border town of Kobani as Kurdish forces advance against the militant group. Since mid-September, more than 200,000 people from Kobani have fled into Turkey. (Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images)
Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images

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Earlier this year, the rise of Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria caught the world's attention.

That group, calling itself the Islamic State, or ISIS, claimed responsibility for killing American hostages. Its fighters also took control of broad areas in Iraq and Syria. This prompted the U.S. to step up its military involvement in the region.

Today, one of the key battlefields in this ongoing fight is the Syrian city of Kobani.

Journalist Hermione Gee recently returned from Kobani, visiting damaged homes and speaking with local residents. Many described a turnaround in the fight against ISIS fighters since the US began its airstrikes. Now, Kurdish fighters and locals control around 60 percent of the city, said Gee.

"There's no fuel, it's very cold, very limited food and so on, so people are living in very difficult conditions, but it's remarkable how optimistic they are, how unified they are," said Gee.

Though Kurdish fighters are regaining ground, the conflict looks likely to continue well into 2015, especially for local residents.

"They will still be under siege," said Gee. "Even if they manage to push ISIS out of Kobani city, it won't be the end of the story."

Neither will it end the debate within the U.S., where lawmakers and President Barack Obama will likely continue to shape policy in the region.

Read reporter Hermione Gee's dispatch this week in The Independent