Air strikes on ISIS in and around the besieged Syrian border town continued to escalate today. Local Kurdish forces are still holding out against the militants, though there are conflicting reports of how much of the town ISIS currently controls:
The U.S. Central Command said five airstrikes south of Kobani since Wednesday had destroyed an Islamic State group support building and two vehicles, and damaged a training camp. The strikes also struck two groups of Islamic State fighters, it said in a statement. “Indications are that Kurdish militia there continue to control most of the city and are holding out against ISIL,” it said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group, which controls large swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. …
The [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights] said the militants had seized more than third of Kobani, but Kurdish officials disputed that, saying their forces had recaptured several parts of the town. “I can confirm that they don’t control a third of the city. There is only a small part of Kobani under the control of Daesh,” said local Kurdish official Idriss Nassan, using an Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State group.
Turkey’s foreign minister stressed in a press conference that Ankara would not launch a unilateral ground operation to rescue Kobani. The government’s refusal to act has sparked protests among Turkey’s Kurdish community, leading in many cases to violence. Piotr Zalewski provides an update on the clashes, which by his count have left at least 21 dead:
In Diyarbakir, about 60 miles north of the border with Syria, members of Hizbullah, a local Islamist group allegedly sympathetic to ISIS, traded gunfire with Kurdish protesters, including PKK militants. Ten people were found dead by the morning. More clashes have been reported in a number of other cities across the southeast, as well as in Kurdish neighborhoods in Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul, with security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails. A curfew was imposed in six provinces, with soldiers patrolling the streets of several cities on Wednesday.
Tulin Daloglu analyzes the situation from the perspective of Turkish politics:
Turkey is going through a decade of polarization to an extent never seen before in its republican history. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies have divided the public and his decision to put imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan at the center of the peace process created serious controversy. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader, blamed Erdogan again Oct. 8 for having wrong-headed policies. …
Despite such serious disagreements about the country’s direction between Turkey’s ruling and opposition parties, all the legislators seem to agree that Turkey should use caution before ordering its ground forces to intervene in Kobani. Moreover, all agree that pro-PKK voices exaggerate linking the fall of Kobani to the fall of Ankara. Yet, they all believe that if IS captures Kobani, its jihadists will control a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border and that would pose a threat to the country’s national security. In sum, the situation is in a dire mess.
At yesterday’s Pentagon briefing, Rear Adm. John Kirby acknowledged that Kobani might still fall to the jihadists:
“We all need to prepare ourselves for the reality that other towns and villages, and perhaps Kobani, will be taken by ISIL.” Kirby reiterated a point he has emphasized before, which is that the U.S. military is fully aware that airstrikes alone will not be sufficient to roll back the Islamic State’s gains in Iraq and Syria. To do that, the United States, along with its partners, is going to have to retrain the Iraqi security forces, bolster the Kurdish Peshmerga, and build a ground force in Syria out of vetted and trained members of the Syrian opposition.
Kobani, in Ben Wallace-Wells’ view, “suggests one risk of the plan: that in the interim there may be atrocities on the ground that these forces are helpless to stop”:
The smart line in Washington ever since Obama took office, both from the administration and from foreign-policy thinkers, has been that the Bush adventures revealed some of the limits of what the United States could accomplish overseas, that we could no longer be everywhere at once. That is a sensible posture to take; it may be the only possible posture. But the cost of that posture is that there will be some very grim events that the United States allows to unfold, because they are not taking place at strategically important spots like “command and control centers,” because our allies aren’t ready, because we can’t be there and everywhere else, too. There will be some things that are unpleasant to stomach. Right now, it looks like Kobani may be one.
Morrissey doesn’t see how this ends well without someone sending in ground forces:
Air strikes may have bought a little more time for Kobani, but without any troops to bolster its defenses, those airstrikes are only delaying the inevitable. If Obama really wants to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, he’ll need to convince the Turks and other regional players to get on the ground, or he’ll have to send American troops to do it.
To Drum, the renewed calls for us to do something are fairly predictable:
Some of this will just be partisan opportunism, but most will be perfectly sincere protests from people with the memory span of a gnat. What they want is a magic wand: some way for Obama to inspire all our allies to want exactly what the United States wants and then to sweep ISIS aside without the loss of a single American life. Anything less is unacceptable.
But guess what? The Iraqi army is still incompetent. America’s allies still have their own agendas and don’t care about ours. Air campaigns still aren’t enough on their own to stop a concerted ground attack. This is the way things are. There are no magic wands. If you want quick results against ISIS, then speak up and tell us you want to send in 100,000 troops. If you’re not willing to do that, then you have to accept that lots of innocent people are going to die without the United States being able to offer much help. Make your choice now.