Thus far, neither US and coalition bombing nor the slow entry of Turkey into the fight has rescued the besieged Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani. Turkish president Recep Erdogan conceded today that the town’s defenses were all but expended, and that its fall was just a matter of time:
Erdogan declared that nothing short of ground forces would work to defeat ISIS, but wants a no-fly zone imposed on Syria before committing to a ground offensive:
Destroying ISIS will require ground operations, Erdogan said, according to the semi-official Anadolu news agency.
Speaking to Syrian refugees, he said there has been “no achievement yet,” despite months of efforts against ISIS.
Erdogan called for a no-fly zone, and for the arming of opposition groups in Iraq and Syria.
People upset over what they consider Turkey’s failure to respond adequately to the ISIS threat launched protests in Turkey, some of which turned violent.
Three people were killed and at least 36 injured in demonstrations throughout Turkey, police said, according to Anadolu.
The demonstrators aren’t alone in their frustration with Erdogan. The White House wonders when their NATO partner will take this seriously, too:
As fighters with the Islamic State bore down Tuesday on the Syrian town of Kobani on the Turkish border, President Obama’s plan to fight the militant group without being drawn deeper into the Syrian civil war was coming under acute strain.
While Turkish troops watched the fighting in Kobani through a chicken-wire fence, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that the town was about to fall and Kurdish fighters warned of an impending blood bath if they were not reinforced — fears the United States shares.
But Mr. Erdogan said Tuesday that Turkey would not get more deeply involved in the conflict with the Islamic State unless the United States agreed to give greater support to rebels trying to unseat the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. That has deepened tensions with President Obama, who would like Turkey to take stronger action against the Islamic State and to leave the fight against Mr. Assad out of it. …
“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.
This frustration seems rather one-sided. President Obama, after all, insisted that his strategy to “degrade and defeat” ISIS would work without putting American boots on the ground, either in Iraq or Syria. It’s pretty clear that someone’s boots will have to get on the ground, both in Iraq and in Syria, if the air strikes are going to have any impact beyond the immediate on the terrorist army. Erdogan wants to oblige, but wants both political and military cover to minimize risks in both arenas. So far, the US hasn’t been able to meet either of those demands.
Nor are they sending many signals that their frustration is based on urgency. The White House may be unhappy with Erdogan’s lack of action in Kobani, but the US isn’t doing much to shift resources to assist in its defense either:
A Pentagon official told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin that the U.S. is not shifting its air campaign in an effort to save Kobani. The official said the embattled town is one of many in Syria and Iraq which are under attack by ISIS. What sets it apart is not its plight but its location on the Turkish border, which makes it possible for the world to watch.
“Kobani is horrible but right now there’s a lot of horrible in Iraq and Syria,” the official said. “Kobani is not unique.”
It may not be unique, but the location at least appears strategic — which is why ISIS has spent so much effort into sacking the city. It’s just across from the Turkish border, making it a real problem for any future effort to fight ISIS. It would be easier to defend it now than liberate it later, after ISIS has a chance to invest itself heavily in that ground. But even with the Obama administration griping about the lack of action, the US-led air coalition in Syria isn’t responding to the call, either. The Pentagon tells the NY Times that Erdogan’s ignoring hell, while telling CBS that there’s plenty of hell to go around. This doesn’t inspire much confidence in this administration’s strategy, if any existed before now.
Update: And now, the US has decided that this particular hell is important:
The U.S.-led coalition stepped up airstrikes around the Syrian border town of Kobane on Tuesday after Turkey appealed for help, enabling Kurdish fighters to reverse the advance of Islamic State militants for the first time since the extremists launched their assault about three weeks ago.
The strikes followed the request by Turkey for intensified U.S. efforts to prevent the predominantly Kurdish town, known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic, from falling to the Islamic State, Turkish officials said. Turkey has lined up tanks and troops within view of the Syrian Kurdish fighters defending Kobane but has not sought to intervene — for a tangle of reasons bound up with its complicated relationship with Kurds and its doubts about the goals of the international coalition fighting the extremists.
Turkey insisted, however, that it does not want the town to fall, and a senior official said Ankara asked the United States on Monday to escalate strikes.
“Turkey will not be content with the fall of Kobane into the hands of terrorist organizations,” Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan said in a statement Tuesday.
“Our government and related institutions have underlined the necessity to intensify aerial bombings in a more active and effective way through contacts with U.S. officials until late into yesterday night,” the statement added.
I wonder what quid pro quo we managed to negotiate for this … if any.