Kobane, explained

Kurdistan 512

The wonders of the Sykes Picot agreement is that it divided the Ottoman Empire up like a cake, with no concern about who was living where. This was bad news for the Kurdish people because their “country” was split up between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. They have been trying to fix this ever since, both peacefully and with violence, so they have been brutally suppressed by all four countries. Nearly a century of conflict has made them very tough indeed.

Syrian Kurdistan is called Rojava and is in Northern Syria It is mainly governed by the PYD and their armed wing the YPG, also known as the People’s Protection Units. In over two years of fighting they have been successful against both the Syrian Army and against ISIS and they had reached the stage where they were just sitting there minding their own business. Then ISIS invaded Iraq, renamed itself Islamic State (IS) and captured large quantities of heavy American weapons in Mosul. They brought some of these weapons back into Syria and used them to attack the YPG again. This time the YPG were losing very badly because they had no answer to these IS heavy weapons. Very many civilian refugees fled over the border into Turkey, many more were not allowed in and are camped against the border.

Kobane is a major Kurdish city very close to the Turkish border. When it was attacked the Turks did nothing to help and IS used their equipment advantage to start taking the town. Then the Americans woke up and put special forces in to designate targets for air attack. This cancelled out the IS equipment advantage and allowed to YPG to retake territory. Casualties on both sides are probably in the order of about 1,000 fighters each.

Overall this is a brilliant template of how to beat IS. Committed, well organised local fighters on the ground backed up by American and Allied air-power with special forces forming the essential interface between the two.

The big problem is politics. America’s #1 concern is not IS. They are vastly more concerned about international terrorism and al-Qaeda. So when they started attacking Syria they used IS as a pretext, but mainly hit the Khorosan who are part of al-Nusra which in turn is part of al-Qaeda. Al-Nusra are one of the few forces effectively fighting Assad but as a result of the USA attack now say they will support IS. But the the USA are not concerned about Assad at all and are doing nothing against him. Yet Assad is very many times more evil than IS. He daily commits many atrocities against civilians with around 200,000 deaths in the conflict so far. This totally dwarfs everything that IS have done.

Turkey have completely different priorities. They have a huge, high quality, Army and Air Force, up to full NATO standards and could walk through any of their neighbours with ease. However they have been fighting the Kurds since the 1920s. The armed Turkish Kurdish resistance (the PKK) was formed in 1978 and there has been a low level civil war ever since. There has been a ceasefire since last year but there is a lot of bad blood. Meanwhile the Turks see getting rid of Assad as their #1 priority. They want NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria and then to use air power to finish Assad off. Turkish concern about IS is a far lower priority.

So, whist the Turks could easily evict IS from Kobane in hours they aren’t going to because they are quite happy to see the Kurds taking a pasting. Likewise they are not allowing NATO countries to use Turkish bases against IS. So the US are having to fly vast distances from the Gulf for every mission. From a USA perspective the Turks really are the awkward squad. From a Turkish perspective the Americans have got their priorities all wrong and are making another fine mess of things. But within Turkey the Kurds are not at all happy about Kobane and there is widespread rioting that could endanger the PKK ceasefire.

There is no doubt that Sykes Picot was wrong and that Kurdistan should be a country for the Kurdish people. There is also no doubt that they will continue to fight for this till they achieve it. Eventually Turkey will have to face up to this reality. Meanwhile the Kurds are using the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars to carve out territories in those countries. Just so long as they can fight off IS whilst doing so.


Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.