Since yesterday, ISIS militants in northern Syria have penetrated farther into the town of Kobani (also known as Ain al-Arab) on the Turkish border, driving back the Kurdish militias defending it and sending thousands of civilians fleeing for their lives to safe havens in Turkey:
Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for Kurds in Kobane, told Agence France-Presse that 2,000 civilians were evacuated on Monday and that all civilians were ordered to leave. More than 180,000 refugees from around Kobane have already poured over the border into Turkey since the siege on the city started three weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reports. IS fighters have already captured more than 300 Kurdish villages around Kobane, but the street-to-street fighting on Monday put them within a mile of the city center. They now surround the city on three sides.
New coalition air strikes reportedly launched today may not be enough to turn the battle against the jihadists, but there are signs that Turkey is preparing to act:
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey suggested Tuesday afternoon that the strikes may have come too late, telling Syrian refugees at a camp in Gaziantep Province, near the border, that Kobani was about to fall, The Associated Press reported. “There has to be cooperation with those who are fighting on the ground,” he was quoted as saying, while adding that airstrikes might not be enough. The latest fighting is taking place in full view of Turkish forces who have massed tanks with their cannons pointing toward Syria but who have not opened fire or otherwise intervened.
Marc Champion urges more support and arms for the Syrian Kurds:
Kobani is the main town in the Westernmost of three areas that make up the self-proclaimed Kurdish-run autonomous region of Rojava. Kobani sits across the main road that runs along the Turkish-Syria border, and if Islamic State can take it, the group can pass through it to get directly from Aleppo in the West to other territories it holds in the east. Plus, the area controls a border crossing. So Islamic State wants to take Kobani, followed by the other parts of Rojava, to make their safe haven safer. Denying Islamic State this victory should therefore be important to the coalition’s goals.
But an effective defense would require assistance from Ankara, and “Erdogan appears to be holding the town, and the coalition, hostage to his broader fights with the PKK and with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad”:
I’m not sure what the answer is for the Kurds of Kobani. They deserve sympathy for their plight, but their leaders are making a choice, too: To fight and die rather than give up their dream of Kurdish self-rule in a pocket of Syria. It seems clear that without Turkish support, the coalition can’t or won’t unleash its full air power to save Kobani, and that this support won’t materialize until the Kurds agree to a buffer zone. That, surely, is by now Rojava’s least bad option.
Goldblog fears a massacre in Kobani if ISIS is not beaten back:
I just got off the phone with a desperate-sounding Kurdish intelligence official, Rooz Bahjat, who said he fears that Kobani could fall to ISIS within the next 24 hours. If it does, he predicts that ISIS will murder thousands in the city, which is crammed with refugees—Kurdish, Turkmen, Christian, and Arab—from other parts of the Syrian charnel house. As many as 50,000 civilians remain in the town, Bahjat said.
“A terrible slaughter is coming. If they take the city, we should expect to have 5,000 dead within 24 or 36 hours,” he told me. “It will be worse than Sinjar,” the site of a recent ISIS massacre that helped prompt President Obama to fight ISIS. There have been reports of airstrikes on ISIS vehicles, but so far, Bahjat said that these strikes have been modest in scope and notably ineffective.
Zack Beauchamp explains how the jihadists advanced on the town so rapidly:
Why did things change? Most analysts say it’s about Iraq. When ISIS swept northern Iraq beginning June 10, its militants captured enormous amounts of advanced, American-made military equipment that had been dropped by the Iraqi army, including mortars and frontline battle tanks, which they’ve brought to the fight in Syria. The Kurdish forces are now outgunned. And because they’re surrounded, they can’t resupply.
But William Gourlay believes that “the brave fight of the PYD has demonstrated the military shortcomings of ISIS”:
That local militias – with only light arms and little outside support – can hold off a major ISIS offensive, including a great deal of heavy weaponry of US and Russian origin, indicates that ISIS’s military prowess is vastly overstated. The PYD militias are tenacious and are fighting to hold their homeland, to be sure, but one can only wonder how easily ISIS may have been defeated in this arena if the might of the US-led coalition had been effectively brought to bear.