Can Leftist Kurdish Militia cut ISIL/ Daesh off from Turkish Supply Routes and Kill the Caliphate?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The intrepid Liz Sly of the Washington Post gets the story of the attempt of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their Arab allies, the Euphrates Volcano, to cut Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) off and kill it. Sly’s insightful report is buttressed by one from Ahmad al-Sakhani at the Dubai-based al-An TV.


Daesh holds Raqqah Province in Syria, up to the small town of Tel Abyad on the Syrian-Turkish border, through which it receives weapons, ammunition and volunteers smuggled through Turkey. On either side of Daesh territory in northern Raqqah Province are two cantons of the Kurdish belt known as Rojava. The two are Kobane and Jazira. Jazira is much bigger and abuts the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq. Altogether there are probably about 2.2 million Kurds in Syria (a country of 22 million), though it may be less since several hundred thousand were forced to flee to Turkey from Raqqah.

The YPG, the paramilitary of the far-left Democratic Union Party, and its Arab allies have taken 12 villages near to Tal Abyad away from Daesh in recent fighting. An important point: According to al-An TV, this advance has only been possible because of close coordination between the ground forces and the US Air Force, which is bombing Daesh targets once they are identified by the rebel fighters. In other words, this fight looks a little like the battle for Mt. Sinjar in Iraq, where Kurdish fighters got practical air support from the US and its coalition partners, which intensively bombed Daesh positions and equipment on their behalf. At Mt. Sinjar, YPG units played an important role, but the major push came from the Peshmerga of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Iraqi Kurdistan, who knew how to call in US air strikes.

Some 12,000 residents of the latter town have fled, expecting that a battle royale in the center of the town is in the offing between Daesh on the one hand and the YPG alongside the Free Syrian Army units calling themselves Euphrates Volcano on the other. Some 5,000 refugees are huddling along the border with Syria.

If the Kurds can take the northern Raqqa corridor along the Turkish border, including Tel Abyad, they can link two of their scattered cantons and can cut Daesh off from resupply routes in Turkey.

Abu Isa, the leader of the 2,000 Arab fighters of the Arab side of the Euphrates Volcano joint operations room, called on villagers to remain in their homes, promising them they would be safe. His demi-brigade seems to be well armed, having medium and light weaponry, suggesting that the US is provisioning them.

Al-An maintains that a lot of Daesh fighters have pulled back from the north to the capital city of Raqqah, and that the remaining fighters have warned local inhabitants to stay inside on threat of condign punishment.

There is a saying in the military that everyone wants to do strategy, but real men do logistics. That is, the supply train for the army is often more crucial than the big concept plan of battle. Liz Sly showed that she is the ‘real man’ of this somewhat sexist saying.

There has been a lot of back and forth between Daesh and the Kurds in the northeastern Jazira region, especially at the city of Hasaka. What is promising here is that the anti-Daesh forces appear to be getting good air support from the American-led coalition. It helps that Euphrates Volcano has not gone jihadi and is what is left of the Free Syrian Army.

13 Responses

  1. And if the Kurds did that then the Turkish army would simply intervene and open up the corridor again.

    Would the USAF then be willing to bomb the Turkish Army?

  2. Stephen Walt:
    ‘People keeping telling US to stop ISIS, Russia, Taliban, Al Qaeda, PRC, Iran, etc, etc., w/o saying which is biggest or most urgent problem.’

    I’d say the most urgent problem is ISIS.

    • @ Watson,
      I would say that the most urgent problem is the U.S. compulsion to get in the middle of violent conflicts. Yes, it is heart rending to see all of these punk organizations (such as al Qaeda types, too numerous to mention, but don’t forget boko haram; and don’t forget the drug cartels in Mexico) rape, pillage and murder. But the U.S. has problems of its own (see police brutality and racism, for example).
      The U.S. usually winds up doing the equivalent of pouring kerosene on the fire when it dives into another country’s entanglements. The best that the U.S. can do is stay out, fix her own troubles, and lead by example.

      • I agree with your perspective. I believe that there should be an international ‘full court press’ against ISIS, and Boko Haram, and the drug cartels in Mexico; but it should be led by the UN, not by the USA. Uncle Sam has demonstrated its lack of bona fides to be the world’s sheriff.

    • Daesh . . . can’t afford to lose Tel Abyad . According to Liz Sly, not only do fighters, weapons and ammunition from Turkey flow through the town, it also serves as a smuggling route for oil. No smuggling means no money to pay troops or for weapons, ammo, supplies etc. Daesh just has to sit there and get bombed by the U.S. after Kurds and Syrian forces relay the coordinates. Then they launch attacks. How long can they hold out? Taking Ramadi and Palmyra pale in comparison. The Daesh cockroaches are in a real tough situation.

  3. AbdiRahman.San

    These leftists commit crimes against civilians,too. according to some activists! but no one talks about them since they fight ISIS!

  4. This is interesting. I wonder if that data trove that came from the Delta raid on the Daesh finance leader revealed lots of information about Turkish culpability.

    Maybe the Turks were told the game is up via back channels and now Erdogan has been knocked down a few pegs making these operations less susceptible to Turkish meddling.

    The Kurds are also more proficient at air to ground stuff and more disciplined than the various militia and regular forces.

  5. The fact that there has been several accusations against the YPG concerning ethnic cleansing (Turkomen, Arab and Christian) is worrisome. Also, that basically Sunni Arabs from many locations in Tal Abyad Provence are principally the Syrians fleeing to Turkey indicates that the indigenous Arabs haven’t complete confidence in the Free Syrian Army or YPG. Granted, in these situations it is difficult to sort out ISIS collaborators from the indigenous populations and an advancing force doesn’t wish to leave a fifth column behind. The acceptance of the YPG/Free Syrian Army will likely be in the sort of governance that the organization leaves behind in conquered territories.

  6. Prof. Cole – It was reported that in al-Baghdadi’s last audio message he suggested that he believed that the city of Raqqa would be attacked by pro-coalition forces before Mosul was. How realistic do you think it would be for YPG led forces to reach and attempt to liberate that city even though it would mean traveling through non-majoritarian Kurdish territory?

  7. You should get the military quote right: amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics. Nothing sexist about it.

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