This past fall Kobani became the focal point of international and local efforts to roll back the Islamic State (Daesh). Yet despite the support of Western airstrikes, for a long the fall of Kolbani looked to be all but inevitable. Now, however, the tides have turned and Kurdish forces have retaken the town.
Kobani was once a secular Mecca in Syria and throughout much of the Syrian civil war acted as the home base and de facto capital of Syrian Kurds. For this reason the city quickly found itself in the cross hairs of the Daesh, whose members view Kurds essentially as unbelievers due to their more liberal interpretations of Islam and secular views.
A few months ago Kobani had all but fallen to ISIS forces, with local Kurds barely managing to keep a toe hold in the city. Most of the city’s residents had fled across the nearby border to Turkey and have been waiting in refugee camps ever since. Now it appears that as much as 90% of the town is back under Kurdish control.
Kobani: Kurds Lead the Advance
Tensions between the region’s Kurds and the Islamic State have been high since the emergence of Daesh. While both groups are Sunni, they don’t exactly see eye-to-eye when it comes to their interpretations of the Koran and the role of religion in society.
Most Kurds tend to identify as Kurds first, Muslims second, whereas Sunni hardliners see themselves as Sunni Muslims first, second, and third. At the same time, the Sunni Kurds, which are spread across southern Turkey and northern Iraq and Syria, sit on oil rich lands and in many places form the primary government power.
And it was the Kurds who stood to lose the most when Kobani fell into ISIS control earlier this year. It was a major blow to the various Kurdish groups across the region, and began to seed doubts as to whether they could truly stop the Islamic State.
Kurds have formed the bulk of the troops on the ground, however, and in recent weeks Turkey has begun to allow Kurdish forces to travel to and from the battle lines in Syria. Previously, Turkey had closed the borders out of fears that a strong Kurdish movement in Syria would empower restive Kurds in Turkey.
The influx of troops and increasing armaments provided by Western powers helped the Kurdish forces turn the battle in their favor. Kurdish fighters are already well-respected throughout the region and have earned a well-deserved reputation as gritty fighters willing to give every battle their awe.
While Daesh has successfully routed the Iraqi army, often while being vastly outnumbered, Kurdish forces across both Syria and Iraq have proven far more difficult to defeat. To the east Kurdish forces had already fended off Daesh invasions into the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq. Now, having taking back Kobani, the Kurds are proving their worth as the most credible fighting force capable of taking on ISIS.
Western Air Strikes Essential
Western air strikes lead by the United States were also essential in defeating the Islamic State and forcing them out of Kobani. The United States and its Western allies kept up a near constant barrage of air strikes, with attacks being coordinated and launched on a daily basis.
This made it more difficult for Daesh to dig in and to gather in large numbers. Air strikes also ensured that Daesh couldn’t use heavy weapons, such as tanks, helping to even the playing field. The Islamic State had siezed numerous heavy weapons systems from the Iraqi military. This, in turn, made it easier for Kurdish forces to retake the city once they had regrouped.