Kurds Fight Alone as Coalition Holds Fire on Jihadi Tanks

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Turkish Troops on Border Patrol
Turkish troops patrol along the Turkish border with Syria near the city of Sanliurfa, on October 4, 2014. Photographer: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

Kurdish fighters battled to repel Islamic State militants attempting to seize their Syrian stronghold of Kobani on the border with Turkey after nearly three weeks of fighting.

Armed with light weapons and shooting from inside homes and behind mud walls in territory around the city, Kurdish forces have slowed the militants, whose rapid advance through villages in northern Syria with tanks and heavy artillery had sent thousands of Kurds fleeing into Turkey.

Islamic State is “still shelling Kobani with mortars as people there are struggling to defend themselves,” Ibrahim Ayhan, a pro-Kurdish lawmaker in the Turkish parliament, said by phone from the country’s border town of Suruc today. Airstrikes last night by U.S.-led coalition warplanes didn’t “change the tide of the war,” he said.

The militants are fighting to expand territory under a self-declared caliphate that now stretches across much of northern Iraq and Syria. In an effort to stop their gains, fighter jets from the U.S. and its allies have struck Islamic State positions in both countries. Kurdish leaders have accused the coalition, and Turkey, of not doing enough to save Kobani from falling.

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 said today in a statement the coalition had carried out 14 strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq yesterday and today. Vehicles, artillery positions and a building were destroyed near Kobani, according to the statement.

‘Safe Haven’

Kirby 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.

While Turkey’s government has vowed to prevent an Islamic State takeover of Kobani, Kurds aren’t convinced, accusing authorities in Ankara of using the crisis to suppress a largely autonomous Kurdish region that has evolved during Syria’s three-year civil war.

The Kurds fighting Islamic State in Syria are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, whose separatist ambition has long been considered Turkey’s top security threat.

“The people of Kobani feel deserted and furious,” Faysal Sariyildiz, another pro-Kurdish legislator, said yesterday.

Turkey’s government on Oct. 2 won parliamentary approval for military action as the conflict spreads closer to home. One Turkish police official was injured at the border crossing of Mursitpinar by flying shrapnel from fighting in Kobani, Dogan news agency said today without clarifying the source of the information.

ISIS Tanks

While President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, commander-in-chief of NATO’s second-largest army, 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.

A real-time feed from the area near Kobani is allowing activists from around the world to watch the developments unfold, and often stoking frustrations.

“It gets ridiculous when you have a live stream, and you can see the ISIS tanks,” said Mark Campbell, 52, who is based in London and has been campaigning for Kurdish rights for two decades. ISIS is another name for Islamic State. Coalition forces “could literally wipe out the tanks in five minutes,” Campbell, who is using social media to raise awareness, said in a video phone interview.

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