While President Obama enjoys a long fundraising swing through California (and deals with a bit of celebrity slobber on his pant leg), ISIS is enjoying its swing through the strategically vital Syrian city of Kobani, whose Kurdish defenders are running out of ammo in their valiant attempt to hold the head-choppers at bay. Reuters has a grim update on the situation:
Thousands of people “will most likely be massacred” if Kobani falls to Islamic State fighters, a U.N. envoy said on Friday, as militants fought deeper into the besieged Syrian Kurdish town in full view of Turkish tanks that have done nothing to intervene.
U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said Kobani could suffer the same fate as the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, where 8,000 Muslims were killed by Serbs in 1995, Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two, while U.N. peacekeepers failed to protect them.
“If this falls, the 700, plus perhaps the 12,000 people, apart from the fighters, will be most likely massacred,” de Mistura said, referring to U.N. estimates for the number of Kurdish fighters defending the town and the total number of people believed trapped inside it.
“Do you remember Srebrenica? We do. We never forgot and probably we never forgave ourselves,” said de Mistura, the U.N. peace envoy for Syria. “When there is an imminent threat to civilians, we cannot, we should not, be silent.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but whether or not you remain silent has very little to do with what happens to the people of Kobani at this point, Peace Envoy de Mistura. ISIS isn’t listening to you, any more than they gave the proverbial rat’s rear end about Barack Obama’s speeches. Obama hasn’t been able to get the Turks involved, which means we’ll be seeing about five thousand panicked editorials about how it’s not his fault, and it doesn’t matter that he spent the last week raising funds for Democrats, instead of doing his damned job. Turkey’s president, Tayip Erdogan, was once seen as one of the foreign leaders most personally fond of Obama. Whatever happened to “smart power?” Say, remember when we were told that Field Marshal Obama would be personally selecting the bombing targets in this non-war? Is that still a thing, and if so, could Gwyneth Paltrow please ask him to drop some more bombs around Kobani?
This is exactly the sort of thing a President who wasn’t constantly playing hooky from the White House would be able to influence, but as soon as Kobani falls, we’ll be in for a round of sad little screeds from Obama dead-enders claiming that nobody could possibly have made a difference, and Kobani’s not such a big deal anyway, especially if you don’t spend too much time looking at pictures of what happened to the Kurds after ISIS sacked it. You might also want to avoid looking at pictures of what the Turks do to Kurds who try to flee the enveloped city in the only direction available to them.
The Kurds have been rioting in Turkey over the impending fall of the city, especially in areas where they can actually see and hear what’s going on:
Intense fighting between Islamic State fighters and outgunned Kurdish forces in the streets of Kobani could be heard from across the border. Warplanes roared overhead and the western edge of town was hit by an air strike, apparently by U.S.-led coalition jets which have intensified a campaign against Islamic State targets around Kobani in recent days.
But even as it has increased its bombing of the area, Washington has acknowledged that its air support is unlikely to be enough to save the city from falling.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said Islamic State fighters had advanced into Kobani and now controlled at least 40 percent of it, including its central administrative area, known as the “security quarter”.
Ocalan Iso, deputy head of the Kurdish forces defending the town, told Reuters that Islamic State fighters were still shelling the centre, which proved it had not yet fallen.
“There are fierce clashes and they are bombing the centre of Kobani from afar,” he said, estimating the militants controlled 20 percent of the town. He called for more U.S.-led air strikes.
The “intensified” campaign by “U.S.-led coalition jets” worked out to fourteen more airstrikes. Turkish Kurds are saying their reconciliation with the government, which followed a long insurgency, will fall apart if Turkey stands by and allows Kobani to fall. President Erdogan has taken to snarling that “the peace process does not mean tolerating illegality.” 31 people have reportedly been killed in riots across Turkey so far. ISIS must be laughing itself sick.
Well, at least Field Marshal Obama is kicking ISIS butt on the Iraqi front, right? Um, no, they’re on the move in Iraq, too. They’ve now been spotted within eight miles of Baghdad, although they don’t seem to have taken any permanent positions that close yet. Unfortunately, they are said to be carrying shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, and they’re getting mighty close to the Baghdad airport. CBS News speaks of a “mixed picture” around the city, which is not really the picture you’re expecting to see after weeks of U.S. airstrikes and blustery Obama talk about “degrading and ultimately destroying” the Islamic State:
ISIS took over the city of Fallujah — only about 40 miles west of Baghdad — in January, and the Iraqi security forces have fought in vain for a year to force them out.
Instead, and in spite of weeks of U.S.-led airstrikes, ISIS has gradually extended its reach. The extremist group is now either present or in control of a huge swath of countryside, forming a 180-degree arc around the Iraqi capital from due north around to the west, and all the way to the south.
Around this zone there have been skirmishes, and occasionally heavy fighting, with Iraqi security forces and Shiite militias battling ISIS.
American jets have carried out more than two dozen airstrikes in the area, mainly near Fallujah and the city of Ramadi, further to the west.
Inside Baghdad itself, there are ISIS sleeper cells that carry out almost daily bombings and assassinations.
An Iraqi officer told CBS News that the airstrikes are helping to clear an ISIS-free buffer zone around the city, where there are Iraqi boots on the ground. In fact, there are 60,000 men assigned to defend the capital, and CBS News correspondent David Martin reports that there are 12 teams of American advisers deployed with the Iraqi brigades. The estimate is that the Iraqi army will fight for the capital and there is no real concern that Baghdad is in imminent danger, Martin says.
Still, questions remain as to whether the Iraqi are disciplined enough to put up a sufficient fight if ISIS launches a major offensive.
Sure, the Iraqis didn’t perform very well in their first encounters with the Islamic State, but that was a while ago, and things have gotten better under Obama’s “no boots on the ground” strategy to build a three-sided proxy army around the caliphate, right?
As Martin reported from the Pentagon on Thursday, due to the relatively poor performance of the Iraqi troops west of Baghdad, the airstrikes are having a limited impact.
In a clear indication of both the urgency of stopping any advance on Baghdad from the West, and in the need for precision strikes around the densely populated city, the U.S. used Apache attack helicopters — for the first time in the fight against ISIS — in Anbar province on Sunday.
Last week, the fighting in Anbar verged on a rout of the Iraqi army, Martin reports. In the past few days the ISIS offensive has slowed, but analysts aren’t sure if that’s because ISIS is overextended or are simply taking an “operational pause” while they reposition for the resumption of the offensive.
The militants largely control the main highway between Baghdad and the border with Jordan, to the west, and the desert surrounding it.
“Mixed picture?” Reading those paragraphs is like riding a roller coaster. Come to Baghdad for the bombings and assassinations, stay for the possibility that the Iraqi army will break and run if ISIS launches a major offensive!
At least we gave al-Qaeda the works in Syria, after Obama renamed them “the Khorasan Group” to avoid confusing the people who still believe what he said about decimating al-Qaeda during his re-election campaign. Yes sir, we bombed those chumps flat on Day One of the Nameless Non-War. How are they looking today, Associated Press?
The barrage of U.S. cruise missiles aimed at a cell of al-Qaida militants in Syria last month failed to stop ongoing terror plots to blow up airplanes over Europe and the United States, American intelligence officials say.
The strikes on a facility near Aleppo killed only one or two key members of what is referred to as the Khorasan Group, officials said, because many of the militants had scattered amid news reports highlighting their activities.
Among those who survived is a French-born jihadist who fought in Afghanistan with a military prowess that is of great concern to U.S. intelligence officials. The group is believed to be continuing its plans to attack the West, officials say
“The strikes were certainly effective in setting back the Khorasan Group, but no one thinks they were a permanent solution or a death blow to the threats that come from this cell,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.
Oh, no one thinks those bombing runs were a death blow, huh? No one except the Administration officials who explicitly told us the Khorasan Group had been destroyed, the morning after the Non-War began, that is. We blew a big chunk of our cruise-missile inventory on that attack, you may recall. One of the missiles caused significant collateral damage, but that’s no problem, because President Obama wrote himself a waiver from President Obama’s rules against inflicting massive collateral damage. That was important because it was urgent to wipe out the Khorasan Group. Except they’re not wiped out.
The limited effectiveness of the attack on the Khorasan Group is partly the result of a hazy intelligence picture that also has bedeviled the air campaign against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq.
The U.S. lacks the networks of bases, spies and ground-based technology it had in place during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials say, or even the network of human sources it developed in Pakistan and Yemen.
In other words, air power is of limited utility without… what’s that phrase again? Oh, yes: “boots on the ground.” You’d almost think this whole Non-War was just a campaign stunt by Obama to get people off his back over the expansion of the Islamic State, and distract from the role his policies played in facilitating their rise, with a big midterm election looming on the horizon. His poll numbers in Kobani are probably about to take a dive.
Meanwhile, ISIS is experiencing a most unwelcome polling surge, as USA Today reports “the battle for Kobani is becoming an important propaganda coup for extremists who hope to show they can stand up to American military power.”
“Everyone is talking about Kobani,” said Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center based in Geneva. “It is a psychological victory.”
America has learned painful lessons about the value of such symbolism in the Arab world. In 2004, militants holed up in Fallujah became a symbol of resistance in the region even though insurgents were eventually driven from the city in western Iraq in a humiliating battlefield defeat.
The images of militants standing up to American military power help attract recruits and money, Alani said. “Young people will not join a weak, defeated organization,” Alani said.
That’s an especially big problem if the bad guys are not eventually driven out in a humiliating battlefield defeat.
U.S. officials took pains this week to point out that the town could fall and suggested the overall objective of degrading the Islamic State was more important than any individual town.
“As horrific as it is to watch in real time what’s happening in Kobani, it’s also important to remember that you have to step back and understand the strategic objective,” Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.
James Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Iraq, said it was a mistake for U.S. officials to suggest they didn’t view Kobani as a critical fight.
“If we lose this thing, what message is this going to send to regimes in the region about American steadfastness?” Jeffrey asked. “What would compel American officials to say that publicly?”
He said Kurds are fighting hard in the city to keep it out of the hands of militants. “Those Kurds are fighting for America.”
There’s a contrast for you: Obama fooling around with Hollywood airheads and Kerry babbling about “strategic objectives” while ISIS piles up a mountain of corpses, links conquered territory to the caliphate, and parades around another conquered city with severed heads. Can’t imagine that’s going to make any of the people we’re counting on to serve as our ground forces eager to race into battle. “Barack Obama has your back” is a sarcastic joke, not a battle cry.
I really hope the Kurds hold their ground in Kobani, for all sorts of strategic and humanitarian reasons. When those reasons are added together, there is no way any honest observer can say the fate of the city doesn’t matter. John Kerry’s going to be so busy “stepping back to get a strategic view” that he falls off a cliff.