Forces of the Islamic State in Syria have mounted a huge offensive with columns of heavy armor sweeping through the Kurdish region of northern Syria near the Turkish border.
Their goal is apparently capturing the strategic border town of Ayn al-Arab, and more than 60 towns and villages in the region have fallen to ISIS forces in the past few days.
This has unleashed a nearly unprecedented wave of refugees streaming into Turkey. More than 60,00 women, children, and old people crossed the border into Turkey in the 24-hour period from Friday to Saturday, overwhelming aid resources.
Kurdish forces in the region are falling back while others are making their way to the front from Turkey to join their comrades.
Since Thursday, Islamic State rebels, backed by tanks and other heavy armor, have seized control of more than 60 villages near the regional capital of Ayn al-Arab, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group. The extremist insurgents, also known as ISIS or ISIL have also forced the evacuation of about 100 other villages, Kurdish field commanders and Turkish officials said.
Turkish television on Sunday continued to broadcast footage of thousands of Kurds, many on foot, crossing the border into Turkey to escape Islamic State. The U.N. refugee agency said most of the refugees were Kurdish women, children and the elderly. Hundreds of Kurdish fighters and volunteers were traveling in the other direction to Syria to shore up their brethren’s defenses, Turkish media reported.
Kurdish militia in Syria, under the banner of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Defense Units, or YPG, said dozens of Kurds had been killed in fighting to defend Ayn al-Arab, called Kobani in Kurdish. They said the jihadists had advanced to within 9 kilometers of Kobani and appealed for international intervention to help their outgunned forces.
The call was joined by one from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a rebel group closely affiliated with the YPG, for the youth of Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast to rise up and rush to save Kobani. The PKK, listed as a terror organization by Washington and Turkey, has spent three decades fighting for autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds.
“Supporting this heroic resistance is not just a debt of honor of the Kurds but all Middle East people. Just giving support is not enough, the criterion must be taking part in the resistance,” the PKK said on its website. “ISIL fascism must drown in the blood it spills…The youth of north Kurdistan (southeast Turkey) must flow in waves to Kobani.”
Islamic State’s progress toward the Turkish border again showed the group’s military strength. It seized Kurdish territory in Syria even as French warplanes launched their first attacks Friday against the group’s positions hundreds of miles away in northeastern Iraq.
The move on Ayn al-Arab follows the seizure by Islamic State insurgents this past week of a strategic bridge over the Euphrates River. The capture enabled the rebels to march on the city from the west and rain down artillery shells on the city’s streets, said Khaled Issa, a representative of the Syrian Kurdish administration in Paris.
The timing is almost too coincidental, as I’ll explore after the page break.
Is ISIS testing Obama’s new Syria policy?
By putting enormous pressure on Kurds in northern Syria, the Islamic State may be probing U.S. commitment to the fight in Syria. The cries for assistance from the Kurds have been met with indifference by most of the international community.
Mr. Issa said he had alerted Western diplomats to the fighting in Kobani, one of the YPG’s three strongholds in northern Syria, but had received little more than promises to look into the situation.
“Are the international forces just going to watch this? We have been fighting the Daesh for over a year now,” said Meysa Abdo, a member of the YPG’s Command Council, referring to Islamic State by its Arabic name.
Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, echoed the plea for outside military aid, as he urged the international community to “use every means” to protect Kobani.
It may be too soon for Obama to take action in Syria. The thorny issue of congressional authorization was supposed to be put off until after the election. But if the president sends planes into Syria to support the Kurds, a bipartisan group of lawmakers would be issuing a call for him to get congressional approval for the strikes.
For those who don’t think much of the intelligence or worldliness of ISIS leaders, you don’t have to be Machiavelli to figure out the political conundrum the president has placed himself in. This is the first major test of his Syria policy and it comes as Congress scatters to the four winds to campaign for re-election and the authorization issue remains unresolved.
Will the president sacrifice the Syrian Kurds to maintain the political viability of his new Syria police? The fallout from doing nothing won’t improve our credibility with the Kurds, or anyone else who might be thinking of signing on for the fight against ISIS.