The Islamic State now reportedly controls more than one-third of Kobani, the besieged Syrian city on the border of Turkey. American military officials are considering the “real possibility” that the Islamic State will defeat the Kurdish forces struggling to keep the city from falling, Voice of America reported last night.
A source in Turkey, originally from Kobani, told me yesterday by Facebook, “We don’t want Kobani to fall, but I think it’s already fallen [because] ISIS [is] inside the city.” His hope: “If [the] coalition cuts ISIS’s back and destroys their heavy arms, events will change.”
American planes carried out six airstrikes yesterday near the city, taking out artillery and armed vehicles, Reuters reported. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saidyesterday that coalition airstrikes had killed at least 45 Islamic State fighters and destroyed five vehicles.
Meanwhile, Syrian Kurdish troops and fighters from the Free Syrian Army are locked in grisly street battles inside the city. A female fighter named Arin Mirkan reportedly carried out a suicide operation in Kobani earlier this week, killing dozens of Islamic State fighters as she detonated her explosive.
The Islamic State briefly managed to seize the Syrian Kurdish forces’ security headquarters yesterday, but afternoon airstrikes helped reclaim it, says Idris Nassan, the co-deputy foreign-affairs minister for Kobani, told National Review Online by phone, speaking from Turkey, where he remains in close contact with forces in the city. The Islamic State is pushing hard for the city center, but the terrorists have also been driven back in the south and southwest, he said.
“Airstrikes are very useful, especially for the last two or three days,” Nassan says, but “airstrikes are not enough to defeat ISIS. There must be strong fighters on the ground to defeat ISIS.” He added that Kurds do not want international ground forces in Kobani, but that they do need military supplies and ammunition.
Even as the United States intensified its airstrike campaign against the Islamic State fighters in Kobani, top American officials said the city was not very strategically important. Echoing other unnamed officials in a CNN story, Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday, “As horrific as it is to watch in real time what is happening in Kobani, you have to step back and understand the strategic objective.” Airstrikes are focused on taking out the militants’ “command and control centers, the infrastructure,” he said.
A young Kobani refugee girl in Turkey. The New York Times says
186,000 have fled to Turkey in the past 3 weeks as ISIS attacks.
But Kobani is significant, both geopolitically and symbolically. Because of its border-town status, the Islamic State could use it to smuggle in additional fighters and supplies. It would represent one of the first major setbacks for Kurdish forces, who up until now have done a decent job fighting the Islamic State.
The fight at Kobani is also illustrating the limits of U.S. policy against the Islamic State. Airstrikes have proven insufficient to stop the terrorists from advancing.
Furthermore, our supposed partner, Turkey, has been reluctant to help meaningfully, given its complicated and violent history with the Kurds. A three-decade Kurdish insurgency has claimed more than 40,000 lives in Turkey, making Ankara reluctant to support Kurdish forces, even in the face of the Islamic State.
Nassan, the official from Kobani, tells me he believes Turkey “is waiting for full control of ISIS on Kobani . . . because they don’t want any independence of Kurdish people . . . not only in the geography of Turkey but everywhere in the world. They will do everything to stop it.”
A Kurdish official in Kobani publicly warned yesterday, “We still have thousands of civilians inside Kobani who might be massacred if ISIS takes the city.” An unknown number of civilians remain, including “the elderly, the poor and the fearful,” Wall Street Journal reported today.
An old refugee from Kobani who is
now in Turkey. (Photos: Omer Ibrahim)
Sources near the Turkish-Syrian border told me yesterday by Facebook that hundreds, and possibly thousands, more refugees were trapped at the border – “ISIS from backside and Turkish military in front side,” as one put it.
In the past three weeks, the Islamic State has conquered more than 300 villages near Kobani, creating a refugee crisis in neighboring Turkey. Credible estimates claim nearly 200,000 Syrians have been displaced in the region.
In Suruc, Turkey, not far from Kobani, refugee adults have mounted a volunteer program called You Are the Joy of Life for the many children among them. Two clowns from Efrin City, Syria, ham it up for some laughs, and volunteers hand out pens and papers for drawing. Most of the children draw the homes they left behind as they fled the Islamic State. Others draw the violence they’ve heard about — a 12-year-old sketches a black-clothed, bearded man holding a crying child, his sword dripping with blood.
“Psychologically, [these kids] are already destroyed when they were in Syria, since they are afraid of the war,” volunteer Omer Ibrahîm writes to me on Facebook, working through a translator.
And when they fled to Turkey, it gets worse. We, as this small group of guys and girls, can’t help these kids. . . . They are without clothes and shoes, not enough food. Most of them are depressed and angry [about] the situation. . . . They don’t know how to express their feelings, and when they start doing that, they start crying. . . . [Most of them] saw the fleeing. . . . Some of them were in villages when [the Islamic State] attacked the villages, and they fled before their arrival without taking anything [with] them, as the parents know previously what happened in Sinjar. . . . Some families [are] talking about some relatives [who] are missing, and nobody knows anything about them.
— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.