Stepped-up air strikes have apparently begun to drive back ISIS fighters from the Syrian Kurdish border town, which they had all but captured as of yesterday, though it’s not clear whether this will be enough to turn the tide in the battle:
“They are now outside the entrances of the city of Kobani. The shelling and bombardment was very effective and as a result of it, IS have been pushed from many positions,” Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister of Kobani district, told Reuters by phone. “This is their biggest retreat since their entry into the city and we can consider this as the beginning of the countdown of their retreat from the area.” Islamic State had been advancing on the strategically important town from three sides and pounding it with artillery despite fierce resistance from heavily outgunned Kurdish forces. Defense experts said it was unlikely that the advance could be halted by air power alone.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, is getting fed up with Turkey:
“There’s growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border,” a senior administration official said. “After all the fulminating about Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe, they’re inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe. “This isn’t how a NATO ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border,” said the official, who spoke anonymously to avoid publicly criticizing an ally.
Steven Cook turns a critical eye on Ankara’s reasoning here:
The Turkish analysis of the situation is different from that of the United States and the Europeans. Ankara believes that IS emerged as a result of the Syrian civil war, which in turn is the result of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s intransigence and brutality. The Turks thus insist that getting rid of Assad is the only way to get rid of IS. This is both simplistic and self-serving: Given that Ankara has been vocal in its support for regime change in Syria, anything less would be a profound embarrassment to Erdogan and Davutoglu. Inasmuch as Erdogan does not believe that the United States is going to do in Assad and may even sometime down the road tacitly agree to some sort of deal that leaves the Syrian dictator in place, the Turks remain cool to taking part in the anti-IS coalition.
Finally, though it may be hard to believe, there are elements of the AKP’s constituency that regard IS as a legitimate group seeking to protect Sunni interests in Syria and Iraq amid ongoing sectarian bloodshed.
Semih Idiz solicits some expert views, which all coalesce around the notion that Erdogan wants the coalition war to be against Assad rather than ISIS:
“Davutoglu is saying in effect that IS is the product of rage and if the source of that rage, namely the Syrian regime, goes, then such groups will also go. I don’t know if he believes this himself, though,” [lecturer on international politics at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, Soli] Ozel told Al-Monitor. Ozel also wonders if there is an ulterior motive to Ankara’s insistence on a no-fly zone and buffer zone in Syria even though there is no international support for them. “If IS engages in a massacre in northern Syria this will provide an excuse for Ankara doing little to prevent it. It can say, ‘I warned the international community, but it refused to act.'”
Nihat Ali Ozcan, a security expert at the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey and a columnist for Milliyet, believes the real problem for the Turkish military in Syria is that it cannot decide who the enemy is. “If the target is Assad, the answer to this question is simple,” Ozcan argued in his Oct. 7 column. “Otherwise it is not clear who and where the enemy is. It wears no uniform and is a part of the civilian population.”
Larison reminds us, again, of how dangerous it would be for the US to start a two-front war in Syria:
If “destroying” ISIS is already an unrealistic goal, and it is, setting out to defeat both ISIS and the Assad regime at the same time is even more fanciful. Destroying the latter would probably be relatively easier, and we know that the U.S. is capable of overthrowing established foreign governments by force, but in doing so the U.S. would plunge all of Syria into even greater chaos. If the war against ISIS also requires the U.S. to go to war with the Syrian government now or later, there is no way that the outcome will be worth the costs to the U.S., and those costs continue to grow with each new goal that hawks want to tack on to the ever-expanding war.
Kurds in southeast Turkey are protesting the government’s inaction. Some of the protests have turned violent:
Nineteen people have been killed in fighting between supporters of the Kurdish PKK party and police and local Islamist groups, according to media reports. Turkey’s Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker said ten were killed and 45 injured in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast. The city of Diyarbakir is “calm” as citizens “generally abide by the curfew,” imposed last night, Eker said today at a televised press conference.
Jamie Dettmer channels more outrage from the Kurdish refugees and fighters amassed on the Turkish side of the border:
“There will be consequences for this,” an activist with Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, tells me. “We aren’t going to forget,” the curly-haired woman, who declines to give a name, says sitting cross-legged on a blanket pulled up under Pistachio trees. PKK activists and defenders in Kobani claim the course of battle could have been changed with just some modest assistance: if they could have gotten anti-tank missiles the Americans have been handing out to rebel battalions in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, and if Turkey had allowed Kurdish reinforcements to cross the border.
Cale Salih examines how the US has dealt with the Kurds differently in Syria and Iraq, which she argues “is reflective of Washington’s general mistaken tendency to presume distinctions between the two countries that do not actually exist”:
In Iraq, the US not only carried out air strikes but also armed the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga and sent military “advisors”. As a result, the peshmerga were able to provide ground intelligence to guide US air strikes, and, in conjunction with Kurdish fighters from Turkey and Syria, they followed up on the ground to retake important territories lost to Isis.
In Syria, the US has been more hesitant to develop such a bold Kurdish partnership. At first glance, the Kurdish fighting force in Syria – the People’s Defence Units (YPG), linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which the US designates as a terrorist group due to its decades-long war with Turkey – is a less natural partner than the widely recognized Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. Yet it was YPG and PKK forces that provided the decisive support on the ground to the Iraqi Kurds, allowing KRG peshmerga to regain territory lost to Isis in Iraq. The US in great part owes the limited success of its airstrikes in north Iraq to the PKK and YPG.
But Jake Hess reveals that Washington has held back-channel talks with the Syrian Kurds:
The United States has rejected formal relations with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the party that is essentially the political wing of the YPG. The PYD, which has ruled Kobani and other Kurdish enclaves inside Syria since President Bashar al-Assad’s forces withdrew in July 2012, is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant organization that has fought Turkey since 1984 — and has consequently been listed as a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the United States. But interviews with American and Kurdish diplomats show that Washington opened indirect talks with the PYD years ago, even as it tried to empower the group’s Kurdish rivals and reconcile them with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Though Washington has declined PYD requests for formal talks, the United States opened indirect talks with the group in 2012, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told Foreign Policy.
Meanwhile, Canada will be launching its own airstrikes soon, and another report suggests coalition ground troops are being discussed:
Military chiefs from more than 20 countries — many already involved in the fight against the Islamic State and some who are considering joining the group — will meet in Washington early next week to discuss progress on airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as well as plans to create a ground force to consolidate gains against the group.
(Photo: A photograph taken from Suruc district of Sanliurfa, Turkey, shows that Turkish army forces patrol while smoke rising from the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) after US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on October 8, 2014. By Emin Menguarslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)