|Siege of Kobanî|
|Part of the Syrian Civil War and Syrian Kurdish–Islamist conflict (2013–present)|
Map showing the current situation in Kobanî.
|Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Abu Khattab al-Kurdi (Commander who is leading the assault on Kobanî)|
|Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqa||ISIL military|
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant:
|Casualties and losses|
24–41 civilians killed|
Over 300,000 civilians flee to Turkey
|Number of fatalities on both sides possibly double due to both sides covering up their losses.|
The Siege of Kobanî was launched by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as ISIL or ISIS) militants on 16 September 2014, in order to capture the town of Kobanî (also known as Kobane or Ayn al-Arab) in Syria.
By 2 October, ISIL succeeded in capturing 350 Kurdish villages and towns, creating a wave of some 300,000 displaced Kurds, most of whom fled across the border into Turkey. Kurdish and Free Syrian Army forces, supported by American and Arab airpower, continue to defend the city against the ISIL attack as of early November.
Background[edit | edit source]
During the Syrian Civil War, the People's Protection Units (YPG) captured Kobanî on 19 July 2012. Since July 2012, the city has been under Kurdish control, while the YPG and Kurdish politicians exercise autonomy for the area they consider part of Syrian Kurdistan. On 2 July, the town and surrounding villages came under attack from fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Offensive[edit | edit source]
ISIL advance[edit | edit source]
On 17 September, following the capture of a strategic bridge over the Euphrates, ISIL launched a large offensive using tanks, rockets and artillery in the direction of Kobanê and within 24 hours captured 21 Kurdish inhabited villages. The advance left Kobanê encircled by ISIL forces. Two days later, ISIL captured 39 more villages, bringing their forces to within 20 kilometers of Kobanê. 45,000 refugees crossed into Turkey, fearing an ISIL takeover of the region, while a number of refugees were stopped at the border and ordered to return to Kobanê by Turkish authorities. The inhabitants of 100 villages were evacuated after coming under continuous shelling and dozens of civilians and People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters were killed as the ISIL advance continued.
On 20 September, ISIL forces reached to within 15 kilometers of Kobanê after capturing three more villages and started bombarding areas 10 kilometers from the city. Meanwhile, more than 300 Kurdish fighters reached Kobanê from Turkey as reinforcements. Senior PKK official Murat Karayilan appealed to the Kurdish youth in Turkey to join Kurdish forces in Syria. During the day, three rockets exploded within Kobanê, spreading fear among its inhabitants. Since the start of the offensive, 34 civilians had been killed, while the number of refugees had reached 60,000.
As of 21 September, ISIL militants captured 64 villages, while 39 ISIS and 27 Kurdish fighters had been killed in the previous 48 hours. Kurdish forces evacuated at least 100 villages on the Syrian side after ISIL militants started the onslaught against the Kurdish villages. ISIS troops reached to within 10 kilometers from the city and were continuing to advance with fighting concentrated on the southern and eastern suburbs of Kobanê, 13 kilometers from the city. The next day, a Kurdish spokesman reported that the ISIL advance east of the city had been halted during the previous night. Despite this, ISIS forces shelled the center of the city and clashes continued in the vicinity of the village of Mojik (about 6 km west of Kobanê) and the village of Alishar (7 km east of the city). On the same day, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that more than 130,000 Syrian Kurds fled across the border into Turkey, escaping an advance by ISIS jihadists.
On 24 September, ISIL forces made more advances south of the city despite air strikes against its supply lines by warplanes which reportedly came from the Turkish side of the border. This brought them to within 8 kilometers south of Kobanê, the closest they had been to the city since the offensive started. During the advance, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant captured the villages of Robey and Tall Ghazal and nearby grain silos. In addition, an ISIL source claimed their forces had also captured several villages to the west of Kobanê. The frontline to the west had moved to the cluster of villages called Siftek as more ISIL fighters and tanks arrived for the offensive during the previous day. The next morning, ISIL fighters were around 2 kilometers away as clashes were continuing. By this point, ISIL controlled 75 percent of the Kobanê Canton, while Kurdish forces only had control of Kobanê, the smaller town of Shera and around 15 villages.
On 26 September, ISIL troops captured a hill, from where YPG fighters had been attacking them in recent days, 10 km (6 miles) west of Kobanê. They also captured a village around 7 km to the east of Kobanê.
Coalition airstrikes and Kobanê surrounded[edit | edit source]
On 27 September, U.S. and Arab coalition planes bombed the area around Kobanê for the first time, targeting ISIL positions in the village of Alishar, 4 kilometers from the city, used as a command and control center by ISIL. Despite the coalition airstrikes against frontline ISIL positions, they were still able to shell the city of Kobanê for the first time, wounding several people. The reticence to use airstrikes to help the Kurdish city was perhaps to avoid upsetting Turkey.
On 29 September, ISIL forces approaching from the south and the southeast were 5 kilometers from the city, while Kobanê was facing sustained bombardment for a second day. The next day, ISIL troops coming in from the east advanced to 2–3 kilometers from Kobanê. During the fighting, the Kurds reportedly destroyed two ISIL tanks. ISIL fighters also captured the village of Siftek, to the west, and used it to stage attacks on Kobanê itself. The village of Kazikan was also captured.
On 1 October, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant forces advanced south-east of Kobanê and on the western front, from which Kurdish forces retreated. This resulted in ISIL troops capturing the final village on the outskirts of Kobanê and approaching to within one kilometer from the town's entrance. At this point, Kurdish fighters in Kobanê were reinforcing their positions with sandbags to prepare for potential house-to-house fighting. By evening, amid a sharp shortage of weapons, Kurdish forces withdrew from the city suburbs as ISIL forces continued their advance. Some refugees reported torture, rape, murder and mutilation at the hands of ISIL. ISIL militants had also reportedly been beheading Kurdish fighters, including women.
By 2 October, ISIL forces captured 350 of the 354 villages around Kobanê, and were positioned only hundreds of meters to the south and south-east of the city. Intense firefights had erupted that day, resulting in 57 Islamist deaths in the east of the city, while an Iraqi ISIL commander and eight other militants were killed in the southern sector.
The next day, ISIL militants took control of Kobanê's southern and eastern entrances and exits. They had also taken a strategic hill and a radio tower, which overlooks the town. Later, a Kurdish fighter reported that Islamists had entered the city's south-western edges and fighting was ongoing. The US-led coalition conducted at least seven air sorties against ISIL targets around Kobanê in the five days to 2 October, performing no strikes on that day, then reportedly carried out further strikes late on 3 October.
Battle for Kobanî[edit | edit source]
During the night between 3 and 4 October, an ISIL attempt to breach the city was repelled. Coalition airstrikes continued on 4 October targeting ISIS logistics, units, artillery positions, and an armored personal carrier. By this point, the city was essentially empty as nearly all residents, except the defenders, fled to Turkey. The last foreign journalist also left on 4 October.
On 5 October, ISIL managed to capture the southern side of Mistanour hill, outside Kobanê, and a Kurdish activist said if the Islamists captured the hill it would give them easy access to the town. The clashes at Mistanour involved hand-to-hand fighting. Also, for the first time, a Kurdish female fighter (Deilar Kanj Khamis, also known by the nom de guerre Arin Mirkan) blew herself up in a suicide attack on an ISIL position, killing 10 ISIS fighters. Later, after seizing full control of the hill, ISIS militants entered the southeastern edge of Kobanê and street-to-street fighting began. This was the first time the jihadists had entered the city itself. They managed to break through Kurdish defenses after 30 militants raced across the open fields at the city's eastern edges. The ISIL fighters were backed up by snipers, heavy machine gun fire and shelling from the hill.
On 6 October, jihadists penetrated about 100 meters into the city and an ISIL flag was raised on top of a four-story building in southeastern Kobanê, shortly after which an ISIL flag was also raised on top of the nearby hill that was captured the previous day. The militants then made an attempt to advance further, but when entering Street 48 they were ambushed by People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters and 20 jihadists were killed. Throughout the day, fighting raged for control of the Maqtala al-Jadida and Qani Arab districts, which ended with ISIL forces capturing both neighborhoods, as well as the industrial zone.
By the next morning, Kurdish forces managed to expel ISIL fighters from most of the eastern part of Kobanê they had captured the previous night, although they were still present in parts of the eastern neighborhoods. Meanwhile, ISIL forces captured several buildings on the southern edge of the city as well as a hospital under construction on the western side. The Kurdish success in the eastern part of town came after several U.S. airstrikes during the night and morning targeted ISIL positions and destroyed a tank, three technicals and an ISIL unit and damaged a tank and one technical. ISIL anti-aircraft artillery was also hit.
On 8 October, Kurdish fighters pushed out ISIL forces from the city, following a new round of U.S. airstrikes that targeted the rear of the Islamic State fighters. One of the targets hit was a concentration of ISIL fighters near a mosque in the eastern part of the city. However, despite the airstrikes, the jihadists soon launched a new assault in the eastern part of Kobanê as ISIL reinforcements arrived and pushed 50–70 meters west of the industrial zone, capturing the market area. By evening, ISIL militants had advanced overall 100 meters towards the city center. Meanwhile, Kurdish fighters captured a hill on the western outskirts of Kobanê.
On 9 October, ISIL forces were in control of more than a third of the city, including all eastern areas, a small part of the northeast and an area in the southeast. ISIL also captured the Kurdish police headquarters, which they targeted the previous night with a large suicide truck-bomb. The clashes in that area left a high ranking Kurdish police commander dead. The police station was then targeted by coalition aircraft and destroyed. To create a smoke screen from coalition planes, ISIL fighters started setting fire to buildings and towers of black smoke burned for hours on the top of Mistanour hill. Later, it was reported Kurdish fighters made advances against ISIL in the eastern part of town, while FSA fighters attacked ISIL forces from the rear causing heavy losses. According to the SOHR, Kurdish forces managed to besiege a group of IS fighters in the police headquarters. The clashes around the building left 11 ISIS fighters killed and four were captured by the Kurds. At this point, Kurdish forces were faced with the risk of running out of ammunition.
On 10 October, ISIL fighters advanced towards the city center and captured the Kurdish military headquarters, which would potentially allow them to advance on the border post and thus surround Kurdish forces inside Kobanê. With the capture of the headquarters, ISIL was in control of 40 percent of the town. For the first time, ISIL tanks were seen inside the city. Meanwhile, Kurdish and Syrian rebel fighters retreated from Sh’ir hill on the western outskirts that they captured two days earlier. In order to avoid coalition airstrikes, ISIL fighters resorted to transporting new supplies of ammunition to the city by motorcycles, while also flying People's Protection Units (YPG) flags on their vehicles to mislead coalition aircraft. Also, ISIL militants wearing YPG uniforms were infiltrating Kurdish lines. Later during the day, an ISIL suicide car-bomb exploded near the Grand Mosque, west of the security quarter, which was followed by clashes in an attempt by ISIL to capture the mosque which would give them a good vantage point for their snipers over a wide area of the city.
On 11 October, ISIL forces attempted to take the centre of Kobanê but were repelled by YPG forces and American airstrikes on ISIL positions. Even so, by this point, ISIL was in control of almost half the city after securing the area housing administrative and security buildings and was advancing along the street that divides the eastern and western parts of the town.
On 12 October, ISIL reinforcements were dispatched to the battle after the militants suffered heavy losses the previous day. ISIL seized the water wells on the outskirts of Kobanê, although the lack of diesel due to the siege already rendered them useless for the Kurdish fighters and civilians in the city. Meanwhile, Kurdish fighters reportedly recaptured once again the village of Tel Shair, west of the town.
On 13 October, three ISIL suicide bombings against Kurdish positions occurred in Kobanê. One suicide truck-bomber blew himself up in northwest Kobanê which opened the way for ISIL forces to advance and capture the New Cultural Center, leaving them in control of 50 percent of Kobanê. A second bomber attempted to reach the border crossing but exploded prematurely and the ISIL attack on the crossing was repelled. The third bomber attacked Kurdish forces to the west of the security quarter who managed to advance slightly against ISIL in the area. Kurdish fighters also captured some ISIL positions in the south of the city. According to a Kurdish fighter, if ISIL took control of the border crossing "it's over." He said, despite Kurdish forces repelling the ISIL attack on the crossing, it was "impossible" for them to hold their ground if the same situation continued.
On 14 October, Kurdish fighters recaptured Tall Shair hill, west of Kobanê.
Between 13 and 15 October, the U.S. conducted 39 air-strikes on ISIL positions in and around Kobanê, 21 of which happened on the night of 13 October. This allowed Kurdish fighters to make progress against the jihadists in ISIL-held parts of the city. The strikes killed 39 ISIL fighters. Kurdish forces said that the air-strikes had become much more effective due to them starting to coordinate with the U.S. by providing them targets for the strikes. The number of strikes had risen to 53 by 17 October.
On 15 October, the Kurdish deputy foreign minister claimed the advances Kurdish forces made left them in control of 80% of the city, which could possibly lead to them regaining the town. However, a U.S. military official stated that, despite their air-strikes reportedly killing several hundred ISIL militants since the start of the battle, the threat of the town falling to the jihadists still existed.
On 16 October, Kurdish commander Baharin Kandal told the BBC that Islamic State fighters had retreated from most of the town, with two areas of continued resistance remaining.
On 18 October, ISIL launched a fierce new assault from the east towards the border crossing, in an attempt to cut off Kurdish fighters in Kobanê. However, the attack was repulsed, while more ISIL reinforcements were being sent. By this point, ISIL fighters were still present in the south and east of Kobanê and were believed to hold around a third of the town. Later, two ISIL car-bombs exploded. One west of the security quarter, near the municipal building, and the other in al-Hurreyyi Square, near the ISIL-held Cultural Center Building. During the day, ISIL hit the city with 41 shells.
On 19 October, YPG fighters advanced in the Kani Erban area where they took over two ISIL positions, while ISIL managed to advance in the west of the security quarter. The US-led coalition launched six airstrikes on ISIL positions between 18–19 October. Later, 3 US transport aircrafts dropped 27 bundles totalling 24 tons of small arms and ammunition as well as 10 tons of medical supplies that were supplied by Iraqi Kurdistan to Kurdish fighters defending Kobanê. In a statement released by the U.S. Central Command, it was stated that the airdrops were "...intended to enable continued resistance against ISIL's attempts to overtake Kobanê." According to reports, one of the bundles landed in an ISIL held area and was subsequently bombed. Another bundle that landed off target was recovered by Kurdish forces.
On 20 October, two ISIL car-bombs exploded in the northern part of the city.
On 21 October, ISIL militants claimed on social media to have taken hold of at least one cache of the airdropped supplies as shown in an uploaded video by ISIL militants; the cache included hand grenades, ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
On 23 October, ISIL militants once again captured Tall Shair hill after hours of fighting. But the hill was targeted by airstrikes in the evening and was recaptured by the Kurds later on in the night. The fall of the hill came as a result of a new assault by ISIL militants that had started the night before and had continued into the next day.
On 24 October, reports from Kobanê suggested ISIL fighters may have used an unidentified chemical weapon in the battle for the city.
On 27 October, ISIL released another video with British hostage John Cantlie, in which he claims that the city of Kobanê was mostly under ISIL control, with only a few pockets of Kurdish resistance remaining. He also claimed that the Battle of Kobanê was "largely over," and that ISIL forces were mostly mopping up in the city. The captions in the video displaying the Turkish flags at the border, claimed to have been filmed by one of the four ISIL drones. However, the video has been deemed as pure ISIL propaganda, especially since analysts claim that it was filmed about a week earlier. Additionally, 200 Iraqi Kurdish forces are expected to arrive in Kobanê as reinforcements, via the Syrian-Turkish border.
On 28 October, a fifth attempt by ISIL to capture the border crossing was also repelled, while preparations were underway for the Peshmerga to cross the border with Syria from Turkey.
FSA and Peshmerga reinforcements arrive[edit | edit source]
On 29 October, 50 Syrian FSA fighters crossed the border from Turkey into Kobanî.
On 31 October, more than 20 vehicles with Kurdish Peshmerga forces with their weapons have entered the city of Kobanî from Sh’ir Hill in the western countryside of the city. The Iraqi Peshmerga forces numbered around 150 and brought heavy weapons and ammunition. These arrivals marked the first time Turkey allowed ground troops from outside Syria to reinforce the Kurds defending Kobanê.
On 1 November, the YPG advanced towards the al-Haj Rashad Mosque area.
On 2 November, in an interview, FSA commander Abdul-Jabbar Ekada stated that 320 Free Syrian Army fighters were present in the city, and that ISIL militants controlled 60% of Kobanî.
On 5 November, the Iraqi Kurdish regional government in Erbil delivered several truckloads of ammunition that secretly crossed into Kobanî via Turkey, to help the town's defenders. Also, officials in the town claimed that since the arrival of Peshmerga reinforcements, several ISIL advances had been halted, resulting in ISIL losses of "possibly hundreds".
On 11 November, the YPG recaptured an undisclosed number of streets and buildings in the south of the town.
On 12 November, Kurdish forces cut off a road used as a supply route by ISIL. The road connects Kobanî and a village to its south east called Hilnij.
Spillover on the Turkish side of the border and protests[edit | edit source]
More than 200,000 Syrian refugees flowed into Turkey. However, security forces did not allow People's Protection Units (YPG) militants and other volunteers to go the other way, using tear gas and water cannon. On 30 September, errant shells landed on Turkish soil and the Turks shot back into Syrian territory, with Turkish armor being brought to the border to deter further incursions. Five civilians in Turkey were injured when a mortar hit their house. Turkey evacuated two villages as a precautionary measure. While dispersing Kurdish crowds, Turkish police fired tear gas directly into a BBC news crew van, breaking through the rear window and starting a small fire.
Protests erupted in various cities in Turkey regarding the lack of support for the Kurds from the Turkish government. Protesters were met with tear gas and water cannons, and initially 12 people were killed. 31 people have been killed in subsequent rioting. President Erdogan said that he was not ready to launch operations against ISIL in Syria unless it was also against the Assad regime.
November 1, 2014 saw an international day of protest for the Kurds of Kobanî. 5,000 people demonstrated in the Turkish town of Suruc, 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border. At least 15,000 marched in Turkey's largest Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir and 1,000 protested in Istanbul, all peaceful.
On November 7 there were reports that a 28-year-old Kurdish woman activist had been "shot in the head" by Turkish soldiers on the Turkish side of the border near Kobanî. She was reportedly part of a "peaceful group of demonstrators" who wanted the Turkish government to allow volunteers from Turkey to join the fight against ISIL in Kobanî.
International reactions[edit | edit source]
PKK – In September, the PKK threatened to resume its fight against the Turkish government, partly because of what it said was the latter's support for the onslaught against Kobanê. Öcalan reiterated the threat on 1 October. Iraqi Kurdistan – On 6 October Iraqi Kurdistan officials blamed the geography of the Kobanê region, as well as the PYD's "strategic mistakes"—which included concentrating power in an authoritarian manner—for not being able to send aid or support. The Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government on 12 October announced that it would send weapons, equipment and humanitarian aid to Kobanê, with Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani stating "Kobanê is very important to us and we will spare no effort to save it".
Free Syrian Army - Colonel Malik el-Kurdi, one of the commanders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), criticized the U.S. administration over airdropping weapons to the armed Kurdish factions: "It is disgusting politics for the U.S. to deliver weapons to the Kurds who have been fighting ISIS for only a month in a small town, while depriving the mainstream opposition for more than three years from any military and strategic aid while resisting the Assad regime that commits any kind of war crime."
Syria – A senior Syrian minister apologized for not sending airstrikes, saying that Kobanê was so close to the Turkish border, that their jets would violate Turkish territory and be shot down. The Syrian Foreign Ministry also said that any Turkish military activity on its soil would be considered an act of aggression, and reacted furiously to Peshmerga and Free Syrian Army troops being deployed to Kobanê claiming this was evidence of Turkey's "conspiratorial role" in Syria.
Turkey – President Recep Erdogan urged the international community to act to defend the town and prevent it from falling to ISIS. He stressed that "there must be cooperation on the ground", as airstrikes alone would not change the situation. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that it is "not acceptable to claim that the crisis has happened just because Turkey has not opened its borders". He also defended Turkey's refusal to let Kurds cross into Syria to fight into Kobanê, saying that Turkey does "not let Turkish citizens go into Syria because we don't want them to be a part of the conflict in Syria". Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç mocked the defenders of the town, saying that "They are not able to put up a serious fight there...It is easy to kidnap people but they are not able to fight in Ain al-Arab. I could say a lot more but let me leave it at that so that they are not embarrassed." Yasin Aktay, deputy chairman of the ruling AKP party stated in an interview that "What is going on in Kobani now is a war between two terrorist organizations." President Recep Erdogan, on 22 October, concerning the U.S. airdrops in Kobane, told a news conference in Ankara that "What was done here on this subject turned out to be wrong. Why did it turn out wrong? Because some of the weapons they dropped from those C130s were seized by ISIS".
USA – The United States has conducted airstrikes but the proximity of the Turkish border and Kurdish fighters make for a difficult situation. A Pentagon official believes that the media outcry about the situation in Kobanê is relayed by nearby reporters. The official said that many other towns have fallen to ISIL without TV crews present. It is unclear why the US Air Force has been concentrating on destroying Syrian oil refineries by airstrikes, instead of trying to protect civilians from ISIL attacks. For example, in the night of 24 to 25 September, the US Air Force flew 13 attacks against targets in Syria: 12 of those attacks were against oil refineries, and just one attack was against an ISIL troops' vehicle. US officials indicated to CNN that they were not concerned if Kobanê fell and that the US goals in Syria are "not to save cities and towns, but to go after ISIS' senior leadership, oil refineries and other infrastructure that would curb the terror group's ability to operate—particularly in Iraq.  However, in late October 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. officials had decided Kobanê was "too symbolically important to lose" and stepped up efforts to prevent ISIL from capturing the border town, including covertly coordinating with local Kurdish forces despite opposition from Turkey.
See also[edit | edit source]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Siege of Kobanê.|
References[edit | edit source]
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