Kurds push ISIS out of Kobani: monitors

The day started off with a prediction that the four-month battle for Kobani was coming to an end — and a defeat for ISIS, whose victory seemed all but inevitable in the early autumn. The tide of war had turned for this Syrian town near the Turkish border, whose residents were mainly Kurds violently opposed to ISIS’ brand of radical Islam. Despite being initially overwhelmed, the Peshmerga and air support from the US turned the battle around:

Kurdish fighters backed by intense U.S.-led airstrikes pushed the Islamic State group almost entirely out of the Syrian town of Kobani on Monday, marking a major loss for extremists whose hopes for easy victory dissolved into a bloody, costly siege that seems close to ending in defeat.

Fighters raised a Kurdish flag on a hill in the border town near Turkey that once flew the Islamic State group’s black banner. It represents a key conquest both for the embattled Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition, whose American coordinator had predicted that the Islamic State group would “impale itself” on Kobani.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and senior Kurdish official Idriss Nassan said the Islamic State group had been nearly expelled, with some sporadic fighting on the eastern edges of the town.

“The Islamic State is on the verge of defeat,” said Nassan, speaking from Turkey near the Syrian border. “Their defenses have collapsed and its fighters have fled.”

Later in the morning, international monitors declared a victory for the Kurds:

Kurdish forces took full control of the Syrian town of Kobani near the Turkish border on Monday, driving out the last group of Islamic State fighters after nearly four months of battles, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

Not everyone’s doing a touchdown dance, though. The town’s defense chief notes that while ISIS has been pushed out of Kobani (also spelled Kobane and called Ayn al-Arab), the situation is still pretty dire:

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) captured the Kani Araban district from the extremists in the morning and later retook the last remaining areas of the town, which lies on the Turkish border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

YPG fighters were pushing into a village on the south-eastern outskirts and from Tuesday would take the fight to the jihadist-held countryside around the border town, Kobane defense chief Ismet Hassan told dpa.

Kobane “has been surrounded for two years and is still surrounded” despite the victory, Hassan warned. He added that Kurdish villages in a radius of 40 kilometres around the town remain occupied by the jihadists.

“We call on the world to open a humanitarian corridor to support Kobane,” he said.

At one time, the Turks had impeded the efforts to defend Kobani, and US attention was elsewhere, but the strategic nature of this fight eventually forced the hands of both to assist the Kurds in the area. If ISIS has lost the battle for Kobani, it will put a big dent in the legitimacy of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose status as warlord depends mainly on his ability to keep winning. ISIS believes that Allah has ordained them to establish a new Islamic state, so losses such as these make it difficult to square with Baghdadi’s claims of a divine right to rule. That may be why ISIS has been reported to be executing fighters who retreat, too.

That reluctance to open a corridor to relieve Kobani should end now. The town has successfully repelled ISIS, but to make that victory stick, it will need plenty of reinforcement and supplies, especially humanitarian in nature. The Turks have opened a new camp for Kobani refugees, but they need to get them back into the city and shore up its defenses against the marauding Islamist army:

The intensity of air strikes cannot be lessened either:

Now that ISIS has been pushed outside of the city, they should present even easier targets for air strikes. The coalition needs to keep them on the retreat, and use that to undermine confidence and morale in Baghdadi’s ranks.

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