The rapid and barbaric advance of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq gripped the world’s attention, leading to eventual Western intervention and arming of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. However, the IS problem has long festered untouched in Syria.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces have been locked in bloody battles with IS militants since 2013 with little support. The fierce battle for Kobane in the Kurdish region of Syria has been raging for several months, but armed with heavy weaponry taking from their spoils in Iraq and regrouping for a major new assault, Syria is on the cusp of yet another humanitarian crisis at the hands of IS.
While the Syrian Kurdish battle against IS has received far less attention and backing than the Kurdish forces repelling IS forces in Iraq, the struggle against IS in that part of the world is just as important and strategic as the ones in Iraq. The Syrian Kurdish struggle against IS not a separate equation but in all reality one and the same.
Thousands of desperate Syrian Kurds fled dozens of villages around Kobane as Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, showing initial hesitance, finally authorized the opening of the border as grateful civilians flooded into the Turkish town of Dikmetas.
“IS fighters have seized at least 21 villages around Kobane,” confirmed Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with reports that IS had already cut off water and electricity supplies to the city.
Under a new strategy to combat IS, US President Barack Obama finally agreed to hit IS strongholds in Syria and as such there is no better place to start than preventing a humanitarian catastrophe in Kobane.
The same YPG forces helped in the fight back against IS forces in Iraq and in turn they must now be helped by Western and Iraqi Kurdish forces.
With common affiliations to the PKK blighting perception, YPG has been viewed with much suspicion and mistrust, particularly by Turkey who has failed to recognize the bigger picture at times. Reservations from nationalists will lead to a much deeper problem for Turkey with a potent IS across its long porous borders.
Recently, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that Turkey was considering plans for a buffer zone on its border with Iraq and Syria. Although this is a much welcome move, such a buffer zone was needed a long-time ago.
The West saw that Peshmerga forces in Iraq were its natural partners and hand in the push back of IS and provided the lightly armed Peshmerga in comparison with IS much needed weaponry.
Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani urged Western support against IS in Kobane amidst “barbaric and terrorist acts”. Barzani stated, “I call on the international community to use every means as soon as possible to protect Kobane,” while adding that “IS terrorists … must be hit and destroyed wherever they are.”
In Syria, the same situation as Iraq must somehow be replicated as US tries to bolster moderate Syrian opposition forces. Much in the same way as the Iraqi Kurdish forces have been so vital in pushing back IS, the Syrian Kurdish forces ultimately hold significant sway to any defeat of IS.
US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the IS gains and advance around Kobane.
The US needs partners it can trust and Syrian Kurds are willing allies. This has proved a difficult reality with deep reservations from Turkey and ties to the PKK, but the situation on the ground needs decisive action and decision making and further US and Western dithering will not only see further atrocities at the hands of IS but the US plan again to defeat IS greatly weakened.