A critical Kurdish city on the Syrian-Turkish border may be about to fall to ISIS after a three-week siege that has pitted lightly armed Kurdish YPG rebels against a jihadist onslaught that includes tanks and artillery.
Despite US airstrikes along the Turkish border with Syria aimed at disrupting the jihadist advance, ISIS has continued its push towards Kobane.
The latest reports place ISIS militants in key mountain positions surrounding the city. At the same time, ISIS fighters are within a mile from Kobane’s center as the siege has turned into a building-t0-building street-fight.
Despite Kobane’s importance, little in terms of concrete help has been given to the Kurdish fighters defending the city. The US carried out airstrikes on September 24 near the Turkish border in an effort to blunt ISIS’s advance — a move that did little to stop the jihadists.
There is no shortage of potential US and coalition targets surrounding Kobane. But there is a lack of reliable human intelligence that would make the strikes as effective as possible.
The US simply doesn’t have the same kind of on-the-ground intelligence presence and capabilities in Syria that it has in neighbouring 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’s network within Syria.
Whereas US airstrikes in Iraq around the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil and the Mosul Dam helped lead to a major rollback of ISIS gains, airstrikes have proven significantly less effective in Syria. The success of the airstrikes in Iraqi Kurdistan owed in part to the mission being conducted in close coordination with US aerial intelligence — American attacks were assisted using coordinates of enemy positions supplied by the Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi Security Forces.
In comparison, the US is operating without any reliable partners on the ground in the Syria, and is largely relying upon drone footage and satellite imagery to pinpoint attacks.
An ISIS fighter told CNN via Skype that US airstrikes against ISIS in the militant capital of Raqqa were both expected and totally ineffective.
“We’ve been ready for this for some time,” the militant told CNN. “We know that our bases are known because they’re tracking us with radars and satellites, so we had backup locations.”
The Kurdish YPG defending Kobane have also stated that there are simply too many ISIS fighters besieging the city for air strikes to be effective.
The jihadists are attacking Kobane from three sides and have adapted their tactics in the face of coalition strikes. And ISIS fighters scatter whenever a plane appears, meaning that the aerial bombardments are of limited utility.
Kobane is a major border crossing, and a useful potential asset for ISIS. By taking the city, the jihadists would be able to travel almost uninterrupted from Aleppo to the border with Iraq.
And controlling such an important border crossing would prop ISIS’s bottom line and deepen their control over their self-style caliphate. “Seizing border crossings, controlling trade, aid shipments, and smuggling will help Islamic State control society and stabilise their rule,” Aron Lund, editor of Syria in Crisis, told Bloomberg Businessweek.
ISIS’s advance into Kobane has also led to a humanitarian emergency — ISIS has overrun approximately 60 villages, sending over 160,000 Kurdish civilians fleeing over the Turkish border.
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