Well, the situation is very confused and it’s difficult to say with confidence what’s really happening because almost all the reporting is either biased or sketchy.
Kobani is a Kurdish town in Syria surrounded on 3 sides by the forces of the Islamic State and on the 4th by the Turkish border, which is closed. There have been Kurdish protests in Turkey in favor of opening the border (at least) or having Turkish troops relieve the siege, in which over a dozen people have died at the hands of Turkish police. Turkey has a history of Kurdish secessionism which has used this area in the past as a safe haven to launch attacks.
The United States has increased the level of airstrikes hoping to blunt the Islamic State offensive and they’ve been either devastatingly effective or utterly useless depending on who you listen to. Juan Cole suggests that this is due to U.S. reluctance to release laser target designators to outside control.
The Islamic State is headed toward a humiliating defeat or on the verge of total victory (again depending). As it has been since the beginning the key questions are why are we involving ourselves at all, what do we hope to achieve, and how close are we to achieving it.
Otherwise we are quite literally just pounding sand.
Fall of Kobani Reveals Failure of U.S. Bombing Campaign
Why US Airstrikes Won’t Defeat ISIS
Turkey Joins the War Campaign against the Islamic State
Why did the US help the Kurds in Iraq but leave Isis to massacre them in Syria?
Cale Salih, The Guardian
Tuesday 7 October 2014 11.34 EDT
Observing fighters for the Islamic State (Isis) march closer and closer toward the key Syrian town of Kobani over the past week has felt like watching a bitterly suspenseful action movie unfold. Unlike other central Syrian towns that have been pounded to the ground mostly out of sight, Kobani’s looming collapse sits in full view of anyone paying attention – journalists, refugees and Turkish military tanks planted over the border, just a couple of miles away. That very border, carelessly drawn a century ago, now determines life or death for the thousands of people on either side. Every day, Isis marches closer to the heart of Kobani, and every day, Kurds across the region grow more exasperated that everyone seems to know what scene comes next – “a terrible slaughter”, with “5,000 dead within 24 or 36 hours”.
With Kobani in hand, Isis will control a strategic stretch of territory linking its self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa to its positions in Aleppo along the border with Turkey, a Nato country. And yet no one seems to be lifting a finger to stop it.
The divergent US policy toward Kurds in Iraq and Syria is reflective of Washington’s general mistaken tendency to presume distinctions between the two countries that do not actually exist. According to US officials quoted this week in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, US airstrikes in Iraq are designed to help Iraqi forces beat back Isis, whereas in Syria, “We’re not trying to take ground away from them. We’re trying to take capability away from them.” A policy that decisively targets Isis in Iraq but half-heartedly in Syria is doomed to fail. It will, at best, only briefly postpone the immediate threat Isis poses to American interests in the region. And the new air strikes aren’t even really working.
A key difference between the new US war strategy in Kurdish-majority parts of the region was Washington’s decision to bolster its Kurdish partners on the ground in Iraq but not in Syria. In Iraq, the US not only carried out air strikes but also armed the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga and sent military “advisors”. As a result, the peshmerga were able to provide ground intelligence to guide US air strikes, and, in conjunction with Kurdish fighters from Turkey and Syria, they followed up on the ground to retake important territories lost to Isis.
In Syria, the US has been more hesitant to develop such a bold Kurdish partnership. At first glance, the Kurdish fighting force in Syria – the People’s Defence Units (YPG), linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which the US designates as a terrorist group due to its decades-long war with Turkey – is a less natural partner than the widely recognized Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. Yet it was YPG and PKK forces that provided the decisive support on the ground to the Iraqi Kurds, allowing KRG peshmerga to regain territory lost to Isis in Iraq. The US in great part owes the limited success of its airstrikes in north Iraq to the PKK and YPG.
The lesson the US should learn from its experience in north Iraq is that you can’t win a war in the air alone. Iraq showed that air strikes against Isis can work – but only when combined with efforts to arm and advise a reliable local force capable of following up to actually retake and hold territory on the ground. The YPG is that force in Syria, and any air strikes without the kind of support sent to the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga will be futile. US collaboration with the YPG will be tricky, as tensions between the PKK and Turkey, a US ally, have recently intensified. The PKK, angered by what it perceives to be Turkey’s efforts to back Isis, threatened to end a fledgling peace process if Isis takes Kobani (also known as Ayn al-Arab). The existing peace process is not only Turkey’s best chance at peace, but also the Obama administration’s best cover for collaboration with the YPG. The US should urgently act to save both Kobani and the peace process, by offering extensive support to the YPG in Syria on the condition that the PKK reaffirms its commitment to the peace process with Turkey.
The repercussions of the fall of Kobani – and it is falling – will be felt far beyond Syrian borders. The genocidal group will have free rein to carry out a staggering massacre within walking distance of Turkish military positions. Kurds across the region will lose faith in Turkey and the Western powers that desperately need them to step in.