YPG Fighters on the frontline south of Kobane, Photo: Carl Drott
KOBANE, Syria — Syrian Kurdish forces resisting attacks by Islamic State (IS) forces report renewed assaults on Kobane, where the militants are presumably hoping for a much needed victory to boost morale and loot new resources.
Local activists report that the Islamic radicals have recently seized at least 16 Kurdish villages west of Kobane, at a time when a US-led coalition of some 40 nations has galvanized to defeat the militants in Iraq.
Kobane, meanwhile, has remained completely isolated and lacking in international support, leaving the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) alone to resist the jihadi rebels.
The YPG remains isolated because of its links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party: the PKK is regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States, Europe and Turkey, where the group has fought a 30-year war for Kurdish rights.
Kobane, known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic and with a diverse population of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Armenians, is one of three Kurdish cantons that declared autonomy last year.
IS militants renewed their attacks on Kobane, which is adjacent to the Turkish border, since the US administration gave the go-ahead for airstrikes on IS positions in Syria that have yet to commence.
The Kobane area is now besieged by IS, which has cut electricity and water supply to the town, and tries to block incoming trade.
The YPG has successfully resisted IS attacks and other groups for the past three years. But since July, the militants have returned with heavy weapons and armored vehicles, seized from the Iraqi army, outgunning the YPG and its allies.
IS attacks on Kobane have intensified since Monday. Facing airstrikes and tough resistance on the ground, the IS is unable to advance further in the Kurdish areas of Iraq, therefore turning its focus on Rojava, as Syria’s Kurdish regions are known.
In towns like Tel Abyad and Raqqa, the IS has clearly shown its intentions, forcing out the Kurdish population in an undisguised campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Hundreds are missing, believed to be either in IS prisons or already killed. Those who managed to get away mainly fled to the YPG-controlled enclave around Kobane.
Lack of heavy, advanced weapons has been the Achilles’ heel of the YPG.
During a recent visit, Rudaw could also confirm the use of cluster munitions, which lay strewn around a YPG position after the latest IS attack. In open terrain or simple dug-outs, the YPG forces are extremely vulnerable to concentrated “Blitzkrieg”-style attacks.
IS is now heavily shelling YPG positions as well as frontline villages, leading to civilian casualties and a population flight to Kobane. The town’s pre-war population of 350,000 has swelled, with some figures saying it has doubled.
Ever since the clashes started, there have been persistent claims from local civilians as well as YPG sources that Turkey is at the very least turning a blind eye to IS activities on its soil.
“How can NATO stand silent when they have Patriot batteries on the border and IS is exploiting this border?” asked Seydo Girespi, the YPG commander responsible for the frontline east of Kobane. “It is clear that NATO does not want to fight terrorism.”
There is no Syrian regime presence whatsoever in Kobane. Instead, there is now close co-operation between the YPG and several units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which took refuge there when forced to flee IS advances in the surrounding area.
The Kobane canton government has tried in vain to convince the Turkish government to co-operate against IS.
In a statement this week, the canton government called for all the countries in the world to support the people of Kobane “in all possible and potential ways” against the “barbarian” IS.
“The areas of Rojava are the first frontier against IS,” Ibrahim Kardo, the canton’s foreign minister, told Rudaw in a recent interview.
“We are pro-democracy and we want the European communities to help us. Do not miss this chance to support democratic forces.”