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KOBANI, Syria – Blocks of low-rise buildings with hollow facades, shattered concrete, streets strewn with rubble and the overturned, crumpled remains of cars and trucks. Such is the landscape in Kobani, where the sounds of rifle and mortar fire resonate all day long in fighting between Islamic State extremists and the Syrian town's Kurdish defenders.
Kurdish fighters peek through sand-bagged positions, firing at suspected militant positions. Female fighters in trenches move quickly behind sheets strung up to block the view of snipers. Foreign jets circle overhead.
An exclusive report shot by a videojournalist inside Kobani offered a rare, in-depth glimpse of the horrendous destruction that more than two months of fighting has inflicted on the Kurdish town in northern Syria by the Turkish border.
There, Kurdish fighters backed by small numbers of Iraqi peshmerga forces and Syrian rebels, are locked in what they see as an existential battle against the militants, who swept into their town in mid-September as part of a summer blitz after the Islamic State group overran large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
Helped by more than 270 airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition and an American airdrop of weapons, the Kurds have succeeded in halting the militants' advance and now believe that a corner has been turned.
Several fighters with the YPG, the main Kurdish fighting force, spoke confidently of a coming victory. Jamil Marzuka, a senior commander, said the fighting has "entered a new phase" in the last week.
"We can tell everyone, not just those on the front lines, that we are drawing up the necessary tactics and plans to liberate the city," he said.
A YPG fighter, who identified himself only by his first name, Pozul, said only small pockets of militants remain. Still, he said he and other fighters must remain wary as they move around because Islamic State snipers lurk amid the ruins and the militants have booby-trapped buildings they left behind.
"They are scattered so as to give us the impression that there are a lot of them, but there are not," he said.
The Kurds' claims of imminent victory may be overly ambitious. But the AP's reporting has found that the Islamic State group's drive has at least been blunted. Hundreds of militants have been killed, most of them by airstrikes.
On Friday, activists said IS militants withdrew from large parts of the so-called Kurdish security quarter, an eastern district where Kurdish militiamen maintain security buildings and offices. Militants had seized the area last month.
Zardasht Kobani, a 26-year-old YPG unit commander, has been fighting day and night for weeks. Often he and his fellow fighters were short on ammunition and sleep, he said. Now he feels an important victory at is at hand. The battle of Kobani has had a crucial symbolism for both sides.
He said the militants have failed in Kobani and are looking for a way out.
"But IS knows that escaping from Kobani will spell their downfall," he said.
The Associated Press is running a series of five exclusive reports with video, text and photos to illustrate ongoing fighting and daily life inside Kobani, Syria. The second part will move on Monday, Dec. 1.