The Battle For Kobani

Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, who are desperately trying to hold off an ISIS advance on the border town of Kobani, are pleading for heavy weapons, saying US air strikes are not really helping:

The jihadis, who this weekend generated further outrage with the murder of the British hostage Alan Henning, are simply too numerous to be cowed by the air assault by US fighter jets, the Kurds say. “Air strikes alone are really not enough to defeat Isis in Kobani,” said Idris Nassan, a senior spokesman for the Kurdish fighters desperately trying to defend the important strategic redoubt from the advancing militants. “They are besieging the city on three sides, and fighter jets simply cannot hit each and every Isis fighter on the ground.”

He said Isis had adapted its tactics to military strikes from the air. “Each time a jet approaches, they leave their open positions, they scatter and hide. What we really need is ground support. We need heavy weapons and ammunition in order to fend them off and defeat them.”

Jamie Dettmer reviews the weekend’s events from his vantage point on the Turkish side of the border:

Although the weekend air raids were hardly intense, the effect of even limited U.S. bombing runs was telling. The missiles launched on Friday and Saturday night interrupted what had been salvo after salvo of tank and mortar fire from the jihadists during daylight hours and forced Islamic State militants to move half-a-mile back from the besieged town. They also emboldened the Kurdish defenders, who are lightly armed and fending off heavy armor. On both nights the Kurds counter-attacked and had some successes, destroying at least one ISIS tank.

Despite the airstrikes, the town’s fate hangs in the balance, says Ismat Sheik Hasan, a commander in the YPG Kurdish self-defense forces, whose vanguard is formed by an offshoot of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Even so, the point of American airpower was made, adding further poignancy to the Kurds’ questioning about why the U.S. is not being more forthright in assisting them to defend the town from an enemy President Barack Obama says he wants to “degrade and defeat.”

Jeremy Bender attributes the ineffectiveness of US airstrikes in Syria to a lack of intel and coordination on the ground:

The US simply doesn’t have the same kind of on-the-ground intelligence presence and capabilities in Syria that it has in neighboring Iraq, where coordination with the Kurds and the Iraqi government allowed American airstrikes to help dial back a major ISIS assault. The US lacks those kinds of partnerships in Syria, and the resulting shortage of intelligence is a major strategic shortcoming — something that may plague the coalition’s overall goal of disrupting and destroying ISIS’ network within Syria.

Liz Sly explains why Turkey hasn’t rushed to save the city:

Turkey remains ambivalent about joining the coalition against the Islamic State, despite a vote in parliament Thursday authorizing military intervention. Turkey is anxious not to take any action that would embolden its Kurdish foes on either side of the border, and the resolution named the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK — the parent organization of the Kurdish militia fighting in Kobane — as one of the targets of any future military intervention, along with the Islamic State and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu signaled late Thursday that Turkey might be prepared to act. “We wouldn’t want Kobane to fall. We’ll do whatever we can to prevent this from happening,” Davutoglu told Turkish journalists. But it remains unclear what Turkey is prepared to do.

Michael Stephens worries:

Adam Chandler presents the battle over Kobani as a sign of how ISIS is adapting to the presence of American air power:

The advance of the Islamic State fighters into a strategically important Syrian city is a development that U.S.-led airstrikes were supposed to preclude. But as many are suggesting, the coalition efforts to stem the Islamic State onslaught have been ineffective. This is, at least in part, because ISIS has changed its tactics.

“In Syria and Iraq, they took down many of their trademark black flags, and camouflaged armed pickup trucks,” The Wall Street Journal wrote of ISIS. “They also took cover among civilians.” The group is also said to have decentralized some of its command structure, adjusted its movements to nighttime, and eschewed the frequent use of cellphone and radio communications.

Australian Defense Minister David Johnston also sees ISIS adapting rapidly:

Johnston acknowledged the potential for Isis extremists to adapt to the expanded air strike campaign by presenting fewer targets to the air forces. “I think that’s pretty certain that they will adapt very quickly not to be out in the open where the Iraqi security forces can call in an air strike.” The embedding of Isis militants in towns was “a much more difficult proposition and I think we’ve started to see adaptation already”, Johnston said. “It was always going to be that the Iraqi security forces would have to step up and go into these towns and clean them out,” he said. In a separate interview on Sunday, Johnston said Isis could be “extremely adaptive” and Iraq could be “quite a long campaign”.