– by John Beck, Vice
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that a ground operation would be needed to stop Kobane falling to the Islamic State (IS) after the jihadists overran parts of the Syrian border town in heavy street to street fighting.
Erdogan warned that the series of air strikes launched by a US-led coalition on IS targets around the city would not be enough to halt the militants’ advance and that Kobane could be seized by IS soon. “The terror will not be over… unless we cooperate for a ground operation,” Erdogan said, speaking at a Syrian refugee camp in Gazientep, according to a translation by AFP. “I am telling the West — dropping bombs from the air will not provide a solution.”
He went on to reiterate calls for a no-fly zone above Syria, introduction of a buffer zone for refugees and for more moderate rebel groups battling the Syrian government to be armed and trained for the fight against IS.
IS moved into Kobane on Monday, seizing one neighborhood, the city’s industrial area and part of the countryside east of the city, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The group previously took control of Mistenur Hill, which overlooks Kobane from the south-east.
The observatory, which collects information from a network of local activists, reported on Tuesday morning that a relative quiet had fallen over Kobane, also known by its Arabic name of Ayn al- Arab, after heavy fighting forced IS to pull back somewhat. SOHR also said that five huge explosions had been heard east and south-east of the city, and were thought to be caused by airstrikes. US Central Command confirmed that aircraft from the American-led anti-IS coalition had “destroyed two IS fighting positions” south of Kobane on Monday.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also urged action on Tueday to defend Kobane, telling parliament “everything must be done so that the Daesh terrorists are stopped and pushed back,” using the Arabic slang for IS.
Fabius added that he had spoken with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and that French President Francois Hollande would talk with Erdogan on Tuesday.
Turkey has previously said that it would stop Kobane falling to IS and last week, the country’s parliament passed a motion which would allow military action against IS in Iraq and Syria and allow foreign forces to launch missions against the jihadists from Turkish soil. However, no further details have been announced. Ankara is wary of the idea of a powerful Kurdish presence on its doorstep, especially the YPG, which has links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that fought for more than 30 years for greater autonomy within Turkey and is considered by authorities to be a terrorist organization.
IS has effectively surrounded Kobane on three sides for well over a year but launched a large-scale offensive more than three weeks ago. It would be a major prize for IS and allow the extremist group to connect territory held in the Syrian province of Aleppo with its stronghold of Raqqa further east. It would also destroy the threat to their rear posed by the Kurds and give the group full control of a large stretch of the Turkish border, aiding the passage of fighters and oil in and out of the country.
Kurdish activists and military officials in Kobane have been warning that it could fall to IS at any moment, but this now looks closer than ever. Nevertheless, the Kurdish YPG fighters defending the city have remained defiant.
Idris Nassan, a senior official in Kobane, insisted to BBC Radio that Kurdish fighters had the advantage over IS in the city.
He said: “Kobane is not going to fall. Kobane resists and the resisting will be for a long time.
“They know the geography, they know how to fight in the streets and even tanks and other heavy weapons will not work in the small and narrow streets of Kobane,” Nassan said.
However Cahit Storm, a computer engineer who left Kobane for the Turkish border five days ago but remains in close contact with those left behind, said the city was about to fall. He said Turkey needed to allow access to Kobane in order to get provisions such as water, food and ammunition to the Kurdish fighters.
“Now that the city is completely locked by IS in the south and the Turks to the north it’s probably already lost,” he told the BBC. “Kobane right now is about to fall in one, maybe two days. Nothing more.”
Kurdish forces have arguably been the most effective force facing off against IS on the ground. However, the jihadists have modern weapons and armor, much of it looted from the Iraqi army during a shock advance in June. As a result they are hard to stop, especially for the YPG, which is mainly armed with elderly Soviet guns and RPGs and unable to access heavier ordnance.
Security forces in border regions have clashed with Turkish Kurds and refugees who believe that Turkey is backing IS and are infuriated that it has closed the border to those wishing to join the YPG in defending Kobane.
One man was killed and at least two others were reportedly injured during protests on Tuesday. Hakan Buksur, 25, was shot with live ammunition as police moved on demonstrators in the eastern Mu? Province, the English language Hurriyet Daily reported. Authorities declared a curfew at 5 pm in southeastern Mardin and eastern Van.
The fighting in Kobane has been clearly visible from the Turkish border and in some cases even spilled over. Five people were wounded when a mortar round hit a house in Turkey on Sunday, prompting authorities to evacuate part of the area.
Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said on Monday that NATO had prepared a strategy to defend Turkey, a NATO member, if it is attacked along its border with Syria.