What’s Happening In Kobani

No one can keep up with the cascading disasters that fill today’s newspapers. If you are an expert on ISIS’s attack on Kobani, skip this post. If, like me, you are trying to catch up, what follows may be helpful.

First, where is Kobani? As the map below shows, Kobani is a Syrian city on that country’s northern border with Turkey:


160,000 Syrians, mostly Kurds, have fled from ISIS’s advance toward Kobani. The city is now being defended by Kurdish fighters, who generally are excellent. But they are outmanned and outgunned by the superbly equipped Islamic extremists. ISIS has taken some of the approaches to the city and is fighting its way into the center of the town, while the Kurds resist courageously. The left-wing Guardian is by no means always reliable, but this up to the minute account seems objective:

Islamic State fighters backed by tanks and artillery have pushed into Kobani, an embattled and strategically important Syrian town on the border with Turkey, touching off heavy street battles with the town’s Kurdish defenders. …

Since it began its offensive in mid-September, Isis has barrelled through one Kurdish village after another as it closed in on its main target: the town of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab. The assault has forced 160,000 Syrians to flee and put a strain on Kurdish forces, who have struggled to hold off the extremists even with the aid of US-led air strikes.

No surprise there. The well-known limits of air power have caused us, among others, to surmise that the administration’s strategy is a political one to get past November, not a military strategy to defeat ISIS.

Capturing Kobani would give Isis a direct link between its positions in the Syrian province of Aleppo and its stronghold of Raqqa to the east. It would crush a lingering pocket of resistance and give the group full control of a large stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border.

If ISIS decides to advance into Turkey, new issues will be raised.

As fighting raged on Monday within sight of the Turkish border, the country’s defence minister, Ismet Yilmaz, said Nato had drawn up a strategy to defend Turkey, a Nato member, in the event of attack along the frontier with Syria.

I’ll bet. The U.S. is pledged to defend its fellow NATO member, Turkey, so the strategy could include American ground troops. If it doesn’t now, it will soon, if ISIS takes the risk of invading Turkey. One might doubt that ISIS would do anything so potentially suicidal, but the group’s experience so far probably hasn’t taught its leaders to be cautious or to fear Western power. So the ISIS crisis could escalate, and soon.