6 Jan 2015

Islamic State on the ropes in Kobani?

In the crucial battleground of Kobani, in northern Syria, reports say Kurdish fighters now control of 80 per cent of the city – but is this a sign the tide is turning against the Islamic State group?

Explosion in Kobani (Reuters)

On Tuesday a monitoring group said Kurdish fighters had captured a key security district in Kobani which houses the police headquarters and other government buildings.

Kurdish official Idriss Nassan also said the report was true, and added that he hoped that “within days” the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) would have captured the whole city.

The YPG, supported by US-led coalition airstrikes, has been fighting the Islamic State for the city, which is located near the Turkish border, for four months.

Above: amateur footage said to be of Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State group in Kobani

Kobani is strategically important – especially as a border crossing with Turkey is located next to it. To control it would be financially and strategically important to the Islamic State group.

However, the city has also become ideologically important as resources from both sides have been increasingly targeted there.

Last year the Islamic State released a video of British hostage John Cantlie speaking from the city, in a bid to prove IS control of the area.

The US-led coalition has hurled its aerial resources into the area – around three-quarters of all 574 coalition air strikes in Syria since last summer have been targeted at Kobani.

They (Islamic State group) may be losing manpower but they aren’t losing territory. Salman Shaikh, Brookings Doha

Since Monday, eight coalition air strikes have hit Kobani, out of a total of 10 in Syria, destroying 14 Islamic State fighting positions and a building.

Fighting IS in 2015

Defeat in Kobani will be a major blow of the Islamic State group, but defeating the whole organisation – which controls territory across Iraq and Syria – is a much bigger prospect.

Michael Stephens of RUSI says 2015 is likely to see “more concerted attempts” from global to try and destroy Islamic State.

“I am not sure they will be successful,” he said. “I think what will happen is that the United States is forced to put some kind of permanent military presence on the ground in Iraq and possibly in Syria as well.”

He added that the British government is also likely to increase its involvement following the 2015 general election.

Salman Shaikh of Brookings Doha Centre agrees there will be a “widening of targeting in 2015” against Islamic State, because “the current efforts are not enough”.

“They (Islamic State group) may be losing manpower but they aren’t losing territory,” he said. “By many accounts they are replenishing their manpower by more than 50-100 a day, whether Syrian themselves or people coming from outside.”

He added that Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is looking vulnerable, with many members of the Shia Alawaite community deserting the army, but that this might mean greater advances for Islamic State fighters.

In Iraq, Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said on Tuesday that the Iraqi army had started rebuilding following its collapse in the face of advancing Islamic State forces over the summer.

He vowed that the Iraqi army would regain territory from the group this year. At the end of December US forces began training Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmarga forces in Iraq.

Around 2,100 US military personnel are in Iraq “advising and assisting” Iraqi forces, the US Department of Defense said on Monday – and a further 1,300 are set to join them by the end of the month.