Whatever Happened to besieged Kurdish City of Kobane, Syria?

By Juan Cole | —

Kurdish forces (including both the local YPG and Peshmerga units from Iraqi Kurdistan), and supported by Free Syrian Army troops and coalition air strikes, have largely recovered Kobane from rule by Daesh (called in the West ISIL or ISIS).

Kurdish forces have recovered control of the downtown where the government buildings are, as well as some 80% of the city. Daesh fighters still have about 20% of it, especially in the south. The air force of the US and other allied countries has conducted air strikes on Daesh fighters and equipment, killing 14 fighters.. The latter they have been much weakened. Kurdish forces are preparing to try to take some villages in the vicinity of Kobane, as well.

It is so far a remarkable story of resilience and even come-back. Kobane, which Arabs call `Ayn al-`Arab, has held out against all odds. Neighboring Turkey would not help because the YPG, which is an offshoot of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), is the major local fighting force. Turkey did allow Peshmerga paramilitary units, loyal to the Kurdistan Regional Government of northern Iraq, into Kobane to fight Daesh.

Kobane lies in the north of the Syrian province of al-Raqqa, which is completely in Daesh hands. It is not an old Syrian city but a new town from a century ago, that grew up as a railway stop and then was used as a camp by the Ottomans for expelled Armenians. Kurds settled there from the countryside as Armenians emigrated elsewhere. There are two large longstanding Kurdish population centers in northern Syria that on the surface looked to have much better chances of holding out against Daesh.

Kobane’s position as a hold-out was quite difficult. Thousands of Kurds there and in its environs have fled to Turkey as refugees. That Daesh hasn’t succeeded there shows that coalition air strikes have attrited its heavy weaponry, leveling the playing field for the Kurdish defenders.

Air strikes were directed Monday at Daesh crude oil depots, as well, seeking to deny the terrorist gang of its income from smuggled petroleum.

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Related video:

BBC News: “Inside Kobane: Keeping Islamic State at bay” (25 min. documentary)

11 Responses

  1. Thanks Juan. I made the point in a NYT post last week. I googled Kobane and found out but not from a US media source. Only get the agnst und sturm und drang from the media and this is but one example

  2. The build op of this fight is very interesting. The courage and the moral strength of the people of Kobane was very important; but they also use the media especially Twitter very very effective. Over the summer they build a strong following on twitter, effectively using the brave kurdish women as ‘poster girls’. It worked as a strong contrast to ISIS propaganda, and in fact forced USA into doing something. In the first weeks of the american engagement it was clear that US military wasn’t really committed. But when the stalemate continued, and the corporation for better, they realized, that the ISIS forces here was an easy target, and it in fact was ISIS who was locked. – Of course one could easily argue that Kobane has been a very expensive place to kill ISIS; but when ISIS continued to pour people in, it just continued. One could wonder why ISIS didn’t give up. – Oh, I forgot to mention it has been a PR disaster for Turkey and Erdogan. When you put a picture of 3 smiling YPG/H girls with kalashnikovs in the sunset up against Erdogan’s angry face , you have to be Erdogan not to see something is wrong.

  3. Amazing how the media one day decides to cover a story, the next day not to cover it. The media, which is supposedly an independent group of cats, acts more like an army, today deployed to this front, tomorrow to another on orders of the commander…

    • Daesh is only one set of Gunmen in the Game. More weapons and more “policy” makes ever more “cities” that look like this: link to youtube.com Most of that demolition is due to US bombs and “friendly fire.” Not changing the Game just means more of the same…

      • Most of the demolition was probably caused by Daesh artillery and tanks rather than U.S. bombs dropping on a Kurdish controlled part of Kobane. Those Kurds singing at the start of the video would be dead, dead, dead if Obama had not intervened. Not only did Daesh make a foolish move trying to take Kobane, they also made an astounding blunder when they decided to stay and fight it out once the tide had turn against them. That decision took away their momentum. Remember when the Daesh fighter planted their black flag on a Kobane building? You won’t see that again.

  4. How long will it be before Daesh buckles in Kobane and Iraq? It’s only a matter of time before Daesh gets cut off and loses control in Mosul. That will be HORRIBLE news for Lindsey Graham, John McCain and all the war mongers in Congress. No Daesh real threat in Iraq means no American combat troops on the ground which will make it much more difficult for the Republicans to start a war and invade Iran.

    Time for Republican War Plan B.

  5. “Turkey would not help because the YPG” Yeah, Turkey has much “better” relations with Iraqi Kurdistan. According to an article I read in CurrentHistory, link to currenthistory.com, Iraqi Kurdistan depends on Turkey for exporting its oil, so Turkey can better exact desired behaviour from the peshmerga. One wonders whether the peshmerga have orders to expel any PKK they find in the Kobane area (pure speculation on my part). And what kind of relationship exists between the YPG and the peshmerga.

    • Well since the YPG and PKK are largely overlapping, it would be rather difficult for the 150 Peshmerga to “expel” the defence force they were sent to aid. However, the YPG was certainly very suspicious. Turkey absolutely refused to allow even YPG in other parts of Syria passage to help Kobane, they refused to allow any arms or supplies to enter the besieged city, thus effectively making their own forces part of the siege of the city. After intense US pressure they agreed to allow Peshmerga with heavy weapons to enter, since the Peshmerga were Turkish allies, and that way they could ensure the weapons would not get into PKK hands. (Incidentally, the PKK, which Juan Cole for some reason continually refers to as “separatists,” have for over a decade made clear they do NOT seek to separate from Turkey, but rather seek self-governance within a fully democratised Turkey. Continually referring to them as “separatists” is not only factually incorrect but echoes Turkish propaganda used to head off the danger of having the ultimately undemocratic nature of the current Turkish system of governance to become a matter for public discussion.)

      At any rate, the cantons of Rojava, including Kobane, are radical leftist enclaves, endorsing the “democratic confederalist” ideas of US anarchist Murray Bookchin, to which they’ve added a very strong feminist component. (They’re position is that capitalism depends on the existence of the state and the state depends on the existence of patriarchy so all must be eliminated together to create a truly democratic society.) This is one reason Erdogan, who is a conservative Islamist, and Daesh and Nusra, who are basically fascists, are so hostile to them. The KRG, or Kurdish region in Iraq, in contrast, is under the rule of what’s basically a classic conservative patronage state led by two former rebel warlords, Barzani based in Erbil and Talibani based in Suleimaniya, who had fought a war with each other not so long ago. The KRG government had actually agreed to cooperate with the total blockade and embargo on all cantons of Rojava (including Kobane) that Turkey had put in place long before the Daesh attacks, and was even digging a giant ditch across the border to ensure nothing moved back and forth between the Iraq and Kurdish Syria. (This was put on hold when the PKK played a major role in saving Erbil from Daesh back in August but this is another story.) So needless to say the YPG/J were very suspicious when it was announced Turkey would allow Peshmerga in. Some did indeed worry they would ultimately turn their guns against the YPG itself. The solution they came up with – this is what I was told when I was in Rojava a couple weeks ago – was to insist that the Peshmerga sent to Kobane be drawn equally from the Barzani and Talibani factions. That way they would be unlikely to be able to coordinate since they were at least as suspicious of each other as they were of their hosts!

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