Tags: Islamic | Turkey | Syria | Assad

Kurds Fight Alone as Coalition Holds Fire Against Jihadist Tanks

Kurds Fight Alone as Coalition Holds Fire Against Jihadist Tanks
A Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) fighters holds AK-47. (Stringer/Getty Images)

Friday, 03 October 2014 05:27 PM

From a hill in Turkey, spectators can watch Islamic State’s advance across Syria, its progress hindered only by a ragtag group of Kurdish fighters who say the Turkish army and U.S. air force are doing little to help.

Video footage and eyewitness accounts paint a picture of Kurds with light weapons shooting from inside homes and behind mud walls around the Syrian town of Kobani, while Islamic State militants with tanks and heavy artillery rumble across nearby fields. As the U.S.-led coalition focuses on bombing Islamic State supply lines elsewhere, the Kurds say they are being left as prey to extremists taking territory on Turkey’s border.

“Dozens of tanks are firing toward the city,” Faysal Sariyildiz, a pro-Kurdish lawmaker in the Turkish parliament, said from the border town of Suruc yesterday. “Even the most primitive warplane could easily knock them out, but they are simply not doing it. The people of Kobani feel deserted and furious.”

The U.S military is monitoring the threat to Kobani, and has conducted airstrikes “in and around” the town in the past several days, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters in Washington yesterday. U.S. Central command reported an attack the previous day that destroyed an Islamic State checkpoint near Kobani.

‘Safe Haven’

Kirby didn’t rule out further strikes if the military believes they’ll be “effective” and won’t cause civilian casualties. He said the U.S. operation in Syria targets areas Islamic State can use as a “sanctuary and a safe haven,” compared with strikes in Iraq that are being conducted to back local forces. That doesn’t mean “we are going to turn a blind eye to what’s going on at Kobani or anywhere else,” Kirby said.

“We’ll do whatever is in our power to not let Kobani fall,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in an interview with A Haber television on Oct. 2. His spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment yesterday, and neither could the government’s press office in Ankara.

Turkey’s government on Oct. 2 won parliamentary approval for military action as the conflict spreads closer to home. Yet for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, commander-in-chief of NATO’s second-largest army, there are no good guys in the fight for Kobani.

U.S. Assistance

The Kurds fighting Islamic State in Syria are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, whose separatist ambition has long been considered the country’s top security threat. It’s classified as a terrorist group by Turkey and the U.S.

That’s one reason that U.S. assistance to the Syrian Kurds has been limited, according to Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

“They have been hitting Islamic State targets in the Kobani area but clearly the strikes aren’t enough to prevent a massacre,” Stein said by e-mail yesterday. “So we have to ask: what is that we are doing here?”

While Erdogan says he’ll join the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State, Turkey’s priority in Syria has been the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power. Turkish officials have also cited the need to create a buffer zone extending as much as 19 miles into Syrian territory, saying it’s needed to manage a growing influx of refugees.

Kurds say the plan is aimed at crushing their nascent autonomous administration, carved out during Syria’s three-year civil war as Assad’s government lost control of their part of the country. Turkey says the Syrian Kurds are collaborating with Assad and should have been fighting him.

Islamic State militants have been trying to capture Kobani for almost three weeks. Turkish news channels broadcasting from the border yesterday showed plumes of smoke rising over the town, amid reports that Islamic State militants had encircled it.

Aid ‘Unthinkable’

Parliament on Oct. 2 approved a motion allowing troops to be deployed into Syria and Iraq and foreign forces to be hosted on Turkish soil. The motion cited Islamic State, the PKK and Assad as reasons for possible Turkish engagement, though it doesn’t necessarily mean any action will be taken.

Davutoglu said Turkey will push ahead with negotiations for peace with Kurds in Turkey, despite warnings from PKK leaders that the fall of Kobani may mean a resumption of a three-decade war that has killed about 40,000 people.

Erdogan has broken taboos by starting negotiations with PKK leaders including Abdullah Ocalan, who is imprisoned on an island outside Istanbul. It’s “unthinkable” for Turkey to go beyond that and assist PKK-linked groups such as the Syrian Kurds, according to Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara.

“No Turkish politician can explain to the public why the government is aiding the PKK and its affiliated groups after fighting against it for 30 years,” he said by phone.

The proximity of Islamic State positions to the Turkish border makes them easy targets should Turkey become involved, Stein at RUSI said. “Forget the coalition, Turkey could hit the damn things with cheap artillery.”

He also said Turkish concerns about Kurdish gains may be thwarting the wider battle against Islamic State, because “Turkey plays a larger role than people think.”

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From a hill in Turkey, spectators can watch Islamic State's advance across Syria, its progress hindered only by a ragtag group of Kurdish fighters who say the Turkish army and U.S. air force are doing little to help.Video footage and eyewitness accounts paint a picture of...
Islamic, Turkey, Syria, Assad
Friday, 03 October 2014 05:27 PM
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