Kurdish fighters trying to expel the ISIS advance against Kobani, a Syrian town that borders with Turkey, are running out of ammunitions and weapons as the terrorist group prepares to capture the Kurdish city in a bid to control most of the northern Syrian border. Should they succeed, ISIS will have a “direct link between its positions in the Syrian province of Aleppo and its stronghold of Raqqa, further east.”
Thousands of residents have fled into Turkey, while some refugees are “literally pressed against the fence, unwilling to cross because they cannot take their livestock, and sometimes blocked by the Turkish authorities,” the New York Times reports.
The Kurdish fighters, under siege for three weeks, have implored the United States and the government of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to send reinforcements. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Turkey and around the world to protest the inaction. But the two countries appear to be locked in a standoff, reluctant to become directly involved in the crossfire, with each nation goading the other to play a larger role in preventing ISIS’ advance and meeting its larger strategic interests.
The American-directed coalition has carried out at least five airstrikes against ISIS in the Kobani area over the last two days. But administration officials insist that the campaign in Syria against ISIS is different from the precision strikes being carried out in Iraq. The U.S. coalition is not targeting vehicles or convoys within Syria; it’s going after ISIS’ ability to sustain itself by degrading the group’s command and control and financial institutions.
“We’ve been very honest about the limits of air power,” Rear Admiral John Kirby said during an appearance on Fox News Wednesday morning, suggesting that ISIS had adapted to the American campaign by moving in smaller convoys and failing to establish clear and identifiable headquarters.
“These guys want to own territory… You got to have willing partners on the ground. You got to have ground forces to push them back,” Kirby said, adding that “we believe the best forces are indigenous forces, people that live there know the terrain and culture.”
But the local fighters on the other side of Syria, the Turks, are unwilling to become more directly involved unless their preconditions are met.
Turkey has positioned some 20 tanks on its side of the border across from Kobani and the parliament has authorized the government to take military action. Yet President Erdogan won’t bolster Turkey’s efforts to save Kobani until the United States expands its military campaign to target President Bashar Assad, supports Syrian rebels trying to oust the Syrian president, and establishes a no-fly zone on the border to protect Turkish troops from the Syrian Air Force.
Erdogan wants to ensure that Turkey’s involvement does not bolster Assad or advance the interests of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K. As such, he is pressuring the Kurdish fighters to denounce Assad “and openly join the Syrian insurgents fighting him,” the New York Times reports.
Analysts say that Erdogan is counting on the United States to blink first, meet his demands, and thus advance Turkish interests.
“There’s growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border,” an Obama administration official told the Times. “After all the fulminating about Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe, they’re inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe.
ISIS, meanwhile, has already seized at least two neighborhoods in Kobani, raising questions about the effectiveness of President Obama’s military campaign and broader international coalition to counter the group.