Three painful minutes from yesterday’s briefing. The short answer: Yes, ISIS is winning. The long answer: Watch.
In the second half of the clip, he suggests ISIS is going after Kobani near the Turkish border essentially for propaganda reasons, because “they really want a win” to show that they’ve endured the Great Satan’s air offensive. Is that true? ISIS, I thought, has a strategic interest in Kobani because it’s a gateway to Turkey. If you believe some officials, it’s America’s coalition that’s going all in on Kobani because we want a win.
U.S. officials said their objective is less Kobane itself — which they said still may fall to the militants — than the opportunity it presents to hit massed Islamic State forces…
“Part of the dynamic we want to show is that these guys aren’t ten feet tall,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the motivation for target selection beyond purely military objectives. “A lot of their edge has been psychological.”…
“I don’t want to suggest that our military actions are driven by the simple fact that this is a town that can be seen by cameras,” the senior official said. “I do think it’s fair to say that we have an interest in blunting their momentum to show that they are not this inevitably advancing force that they have portrayed themselves as being.”
The good news is that the airstrikes seem to be working. Kurdish sources tell the WSJ and the BBC that they’ve retaken parts of the city from ISIS this week. The Journal claims that the jihadis are in retreat, although whether it’s a full capitulation or a strategic retreat is unclear. One BBC source says that there are only a few pockets of ISIS resistance left in the eastern part of the city; video appears to show some fighting still in the north as well. Regardless, there’s no dispute that the coalition has emptied the chamber at ISIS over the past few days, striking from the air nearly 40 times in one 48-hour period per WaPo and killing hundreds of fighters according to the Pentagon. Our “allies” in Turkey have also now greenlit U.S. drones to fly from their base in Incirlik while remaining opposed to manned flights originating there. Sounds like the tide has turned.
Air strikes have also been launched in parts of neighboring Iraq, where ISIS is rapidly making inroads into the Anbar province, and is reportedly advancing on a town just 25 miles from the capital Baghdad.
“That’s probably ISIS’s key victory here,” Matthew Gray, a senior lecturer at the Australian National University’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, tells TIME. Gray is of the opinion that although Kobani’s location on the border with Turkey — and thus with NATO and the Western world — makes it important to defend, Anbar’s proximity to Baghdad and the economic advantages it represents make it far more significant strategically. “If I were ISIS, I’d probably be happy to let Kobani go as long as I have Anbar,” he says.
That’s not an argument that the U.S. is fighting the wrong battle. Rescuing Kobani is important for lots of reasons — easing Turkish jitters about the threat on their border, giving Syrian Kurdistan some breathing room, and saving the people trapped in the city from whatever insane brutality ISIS has planned for them. It is, however, a reminder that we’re still playing defense. Kobani might be spared but the caliphate in Anbar province is more real than ever. When does that trend start to turn? Like the man says, it’s going to be a long fight.