Saturday, 11 October 2014

“Islamic State is in Kobane – where next?”

 At the time of penning this article, fighting between Islamic State (IS) militants and Syrian Kurds is reported to have spread to a southern district of the town of Kobane on the Turkish border, as US-led air strikes continue. In excess of 40% of this key border town is now in Islamic State hands; who knows what terrors await those inhabitants who remain there. Eerily, the menacing Black Flags of Islamic State are said to be flying in a number of locations over the eastern side of Kobane, a Syrian Kurdish town. 

Before the offensive, Kobane, known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic, was home to refugees from the civil war which pits rebels against President Bashar al-Assad and has deteriorated into hundreds of localised battles between different factions. In the past week or so, more than 2,000 Syrian Kurds including women and children have been evacuated from the town, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) has suggested, joining countless thousand other refugees in Turkey.

It seems quite astonishing that the IS hordes have been allowed to advance as far as they have, for it is quite obvious that Kobane has a high strategic value giving IS a clear run at the Syrian/Turkey border, thereby posing a significant threat to Turkish security, which may already have been compromised as it seems inconceivable that there are not already a number of ‘sleeper cells’ or dormant IS units behind Turkish lines awaiting 'orders'. 

Turkey finds herself in a difficult position seemingly, although Ankara did recently pledge to prevent Kobane from falling to the militants and its parliament authorised military operations against militants in Iraq and Syria. Turkey - a regional superpower with significant troops and armour in the area – does seem to be extremely reluctant to intervene despite that government pledge to do whatever it takes to prevent the Kurdish town of Kobane from falling. 

It (Turkey) wants the US-led coalition to agree on a number of things first, including setting up a no-fly zone and a buffer zone in northern Syria and, crucially, a renewed focus on getting rid of President Assad - which remains Turkey's principal objective. Add to that the very bad blood that has existed for decades between Turkey and its own Kurdish population. Turkey has fought a bloody war against the Kurdish terrorist group, PKK for some 30+ years, and this helps to explain why Ankara remains deeply reluctant to get engaged. It is emphasised here that the PKK are recognised by the UN as a terrorist organisation and rightly so.

 Turkey is at loggerheads primarily with Washington as they demand a concerted Nato effort to depose the Assad regime, together with a multi-force armed buffer zone in the region of the border and the establishment of a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, although given that IS do not appear to have air-force resources, this demand is harder to understand.

More recently, both Iran and Russia have pointedly threatened Turkey of 'consequences', should Ankara attempt to bring down the Assad regime, or 'dynastic kleptocracy', which better describes it. 

An estimated 180,000 people have fled into Turkey from the Kobane region following the ISIL advance boosting the already huge refugee communities that have been established throughout large areas of Turkey. IS/ISIL has also boosted its forces with foreign fighters and defectors from other rebel groups and has gained additional heavy weaponry after its fighters swept through northern Iraq in June, seizing arms from the fleeing Iraqi army. An all out assault on Turkey itself, must been seen as a primary objective of IS/ISIL although their overall objective is not so clear. A ground based counter-offensive against IS would seem to be essential, but Turkey seems highly reluctant to unleash her formidable forces, unilaterally. 

It seems that both IS/ISIL and Turkey do have one thing in common and that is to draw NATO into all out combat. In the event that Turkey - a key NATO member – is attacked, then the other member states are bound to come to their aid, this is very clear. As a parenthetic aside, quite what role Greece would (or could) offer to play in such a scenario, is a matter purely for speculation! One thing does seem to be clear and that is that if NATO is drawn into a land and air war in this region, it will be as close to a World-War situation as we have had since 1945. This is truly a very frightening situation and one hopes that one day, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both of whom have been key funder’s of Islamic State, will look upon themselves and ask if they were mutually ‘proud’ of what they have materially assisted in creating! They both have blood on their respective hands.


Chris Green

Beşparmak Media Services