Kurdish forces said they have wrested back control of the Syrian border city of Kobani, the site of a four-month battle between militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) and the US-led international coalition trying to defeat the jihadi group.
Syrian Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) were backed by Iraq’s Kurdish “peshmerga” forces and US air strikes to push Isis out of Kobani in a battle that killed over 1,300, according the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group. It said Isis suffered the bulk of those casualties.
“We have now completely liberated the city from Isis,” said Ocalan Isso, the deputy commander of YPG forces in Kobani. “We are now [moving] to liberate villages to the east and the south.”
Members of the political wing of the group, however, cautioned they had yet to declare victory. “It’s not official yet. We still have pockets of houses to clear in certain districts to the south and the east,” said Salah Muslim, a member of the Kurdish party known as the PYD.
Kobani, which sits right on Syria’s northern frontier with Turkey, became a rallying call for the Middle East’s stateless Kurds, who urged rival Kurdish forces in Iraq, Turkey and Syria to work together to liberate the town. Increasing media coverage of the Isis assault — easily visible from the border — was also a headache for Washington. The YPG, the main force fighting the jihadi group, is linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, which the west and Ankara label a terrorist group.
Syria analyst Hassan Hassan, of Abu Dhabi’s Delma Institute, said that for the US, there was a bleaker point behind the Kurds’ anticipated victory in Kobani.
Some security analysts say Isis’s main goal with high-profile offensives such as Kobani is to distract from its more important military targets in other parts of Syria and Iraq.
The Pentagon itself says that although territory has changed hands between the two sides, Isis has only lost about 1 per cent of the amount of land it controlled before the US-led offensive began in August. In Kobani, activists said it may take one to two days for the city to be fully cleared of fighters and bombs — Isis is known to mine areas as it retreats to slow its enemy’s recapture.
“After that, do not forget there are nearly 400 villages outside Kobani still under control of the organisation,” said Mecid Mohammed, a local Kurdish activist.