Far from being degraded after nearly a week of coalition airstrikes on Islamic State positions in Syria, ISIS forces are reportedly advancing on the Turkish border.
ISIS fighters mounted an offensive on the strategic town of Kobani this week, a region so close to the Turkey that artillery shells reportedly landed in Turkish territory.
Islamic State launched an offensive to try to capture the border town of Kobani more than a week ago, besieging it from three sides. More than 140,000 Kurds have fled the town and surrounding villages since last Friday, crossing into Turkey.
The Sunni insurgents appeared to have taken control of a hill from where fighters of the YPG, the main Kurdish armed group in northern Syria, had been attacking them in recent days, 10 km (6 miles) west of Kobani, a Reuters correspondent said.
Booms of artillery and bursts of machine gun fire echoed across the border, and at least two shells hit a vineyard on the Turkish side. There were no immediate reports of casualties in Turkey and paramilitary police arrived to inspect the site.
“The Syrian Kurds are facing the same threat that, for instance, the Yazidi people were facing just a few weeks ago,” CNN reporter Jim Sciutto observed on Friday. His comments came as CNN cameras near the Turkish border managed to catch what were believed to be ISIS fighters engaged in an offensive near the Turkish border where they were seen combatting Kurdish forces.
Turkey’s moderate Islamist government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been reluctant to join the coalition fighting ISIS in the region. After an excessively coy display of halfhearted denials, Ankara recently confessed that it had agreed to a prisoner swap with ISIS. Erdogan described the exchange as a “covert rescue operation.”
With that obstacle out of the way, however, reports are beginning to indicate that Ankara is resigned to committing to the fight against ISIS militants. Turkey has not yet provided specific details about how, when, or where they plan to commit to the fight against ISIS.
“And while Turkey has been overwhelmed by an estimated 1.5 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees, it also has been accused of harboring — or at least helping — ISIS militants by letting them traffic fighters, weapons and lucrative oil shipments over its borders,” CBS News reported.
Senior State Department officials on Wednesday said Turkey has yet to pledge any specific new assistance to the coalition, despite a number of meetings on the matter that are continuing. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations by name.
With an increasingly robust coalition of Arab states and NATO allies committing assets and material to the war against ISIS, and with the fighting now officially on Turkey’s doorstep, it will be increasingly difficult for Ankara to maintain its semi-neutral stance.