Monday, February 09, 2015

ISIS Defeated in Kobani

By Adnan Khan
In a video released by the pro-ISIS Aamaq News Agency on Fri­day 30 Jan­u­ary 2015, ISIS acknowl­edged that its fight­ers have been defeated in the Syr­ian north­ern town of Kobani.[1] The bat­tle for Kobani which began in late 2014, received much global media atten­tion as over 200,000 Kurds from the town crossed the bor­der into Turkey lead­ing to the call for all Kurds to come to the res­cue. Com­par­isons were made with the Nazi defeat in Stal­in­grad, which was the begin­ning of the end of the Third Reich. Since the ISIS dec­la­ra­tion of the Caliphate back in June 2014, ISIS expanded its con­trol and entered into many bat­tles with rebel groups, al-Assad’s’ forces and the US air force. Analysing the loss of Kobani reveals ISIS is now on the defen­sive, but not defeated.
KobaniIt was in Sep­tem­ber 2014 that ISIS fight­ers cap­tured some 300 Kur­dish vil­lages near Kobani and thrust into the town itself. Tens of thou­sands of refugees spilled across the bor­der into Turkey. By Octo­ber 2014, ISIS con­trol of Kobani was so wide­spread that it even made a pro­pa­ganda video from the town fea­tur­ing a cap­tive British pho­to­jour­nal­ist, John Cantlie, to con­vey its mes­sage that ISIS fight­ers had pushed deep inside despite US-led airstrikes.[2] But after 134 days of fight­ing har­row­ing pho­tographs and video cov­er­age show the dev­as­ta­tion and blood­shed caused by the four-month long battle,[3] today Kobani is in ruins. The bat­tle for Kobani killed some 1,600 peo­ple, includ­ing 1,075 ISIS mem­bers, 459 Kur­dish fight­ers and 32 civil­ians, the Obser­va­tory reported ear­lier in Jan­u­ary 2015.[4] As ISIS relies on pro­pa­ganda to spread ‘invin­ci­bil­ity,’ as a cen­tral ten­ant of its doc­trine, this has been under­mined with the defeat in Kobani.
US airstrikes made the strate­gic dif­fer­ence in the defeat of ISIS in Kobani. In admit­ting defeat, ISIS fight­ers con­firmed in Ara­bic: “the war­planes were bom­bard­ing us night and day. They bom­barded every­thing, even motor­cy­cles, we had to with­draw and the rats advanced.”[5] The US-led air assault began in Syria on Sep­tem­ber 23 2014, with Kobani the tar­get of about a half-dozen airstrikes on aver­age each day. More than 80% of all coali­tion airstrikes in Syria have been in or around the town. At one point in Octo­ber 2014, the US air dropped bun­dles of weapons and med­ical sup­plies for Kur­dish fight­ers — a first in the Syr­ian conflict.[6] Kobani is a small town on the bor­der with Turkey and in the expec­ta­tion of US air strikes ISIS did not con­duct con­cen­trated attacks, which would be ideal tar­gets for US air strikes. But the pic­tures emerg­ing from Kobani show a town flat­tened, with build­ings lay­ing derelict. This would indi­cate the town was bombed heav­ily from the air and in all like­li­hood indis­crim­i­nately. It was this aspect of the bat­tle that appears to have bro­ken the back of ISIS which led to the death of many of its commanders.
The ISIS onslaught of Kobani uni­fied the var­i­ous Kurds into a spir­ited defence of the town. Kur­dish People’s Pro­tec­tion units (YPG) and Free Syr­ian Army fight­ers organ­ised the defence of the town and num­bered in the thou­sands. The mas­sacres con­ducted by ISIS turned Kobani into the Kur­dish ‘Stal­in­grad,’ becom­ing a sym­bol of Kur­dish defi­ance. As a result the Kurds pour­ed resources into the city to resist and repel ISIS. In Octo­ber 2014 the arrival of heav­ily armed Kur­dish pesh­merga fight­ers from Iraq, neu­tralised ISIS’ artillery advan­tage, bring­ing key areas of Kobani under Kur­dish con­trol. The defeat in Kobani raises a strate­gic issue, how was ISIS able to defeat more heav­ily armed Iraqi force units in Iraq, repel a force 15 times its size in Mosul, but ulti­mately face defeat in Kobani by a much less capa­ble force. At RO we have long ques­tioned US mil­i­tary strikes in Iraq and in Mosul many com­man­ders have con­firmed they were ordered to leave Mosul rather than repel ISIS. The Kobani defeat shows ISIS is not as capa­ble as it has prop­a­gated and its other high pro­file vic­to­ries are questionable.
KobaniNorthFrom a strate­gic per­spec­tive Kobani was of min­i­mal strate­gic impor­tance to ISIS but it con­tin­ued its repeated and costly attempts to seize the town. Kobani was a severe drain on ISIS resources, depriv­ing them of large num­bers of fight­ers for other areas. When ISIS was being pushed out of Kobani, it was dis­patch­ing fresh recruits with very lit­tle train­ing; some less than 18 years of age. An ISIS vic­tory in Kobani would have had lit­tle oper­a­tional value and an even less effect on the direc­tion of the over­all con­flict in Syria. Seiz­ing the Town would have enabled ISIS fight­ers to shorten the route between the cap­tured bor­der cross­ing towns of Jarab­u­lus and Tal Abyad by not hav­ing to cir­cum­vent Kobani. Strat­for noted that numer­ous ISIS fight­ers recog­nised this fact early on and report­edly sought to pri­ori­tise other bat­tle­fronts but were over­ruled by ISIS com­man­der Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.[7] Even the gains ISIS made in Iraq’s Anbar province were neglected as it sent hun­dreds or thou­sands of fight­ers to Kobani expos­ing them to US airstrikes. By devot­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate resources and per­son­nel to seize a town of mar­ginal impor­tance, ISIS dis­tracted itself from more press­ing issues in Syria. The ISIS obses­sion with Kobani has now set the group back con­sid­er­ably, gains for sym­bolic rea­sons it greatly pri­ori­tised. This was sim­i­lar to Germany’s dis­as­trous obses­sion with Stal­in­grad in 1942, despite hav­ing already iso­lated and reduced the city to rubble.
ISIS is cur­rently on the defen­sive fac­ing chal­lenges in both iraq and Syria. ISIS is increas­ingly belea­guered as it faces mul­ti­ple dif­fi­cult fronts against rebels, Kur­dish fight­ers and loy­al­ists. Events in Iraq and Kobani has dis­tracted ISIS in Deir el-Zour, allow­ing gov­ern­ment forces to widen their perime­ter and attempt to seize the city. The evolv­ing sit­u­a­tion in Iraq is also increas­ing the demand on ISIS’s lim­ited fight­ers and resources, fur­ther spread­ing the group thin. Coali­tion air power has repeat­edly struck the oil infra­struc­ture con­trolled by ISIS, impact­ing its abil­ity to finance its efforts. Also con­sid­er­able num­ber of reports point to dis­sent within the ranks and from the cit­i­zens forced to live under ISIS rule.[8] For the moment ISIS is on the retreat but it is not defeated, despite the loss of Kobani.

[2] [3]

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