Hostage host offers a tour of ISIS-occupied Kobani

Say, remember those head-chopping terrorist scumbags that were hogging all the headlines before Ebola came along?  Whatever happened to those guys?  Well, they’ve taken to putting out weird tourist videos of a key Kurdish city they claim to control, hosted  by a British hostage who no longer wears an orange jumpsuit.

The Washington Post found some “doctoring” of the video – apparently embellishing the opening fly-by of ISIS-dominated Kobani, which the terror state claims was taken with a drone under its control – but the footage of captive British journalist John Cantlie appears to be genuine, and disturbing:

The video begins with an aerial shot of Kobane purportedly shot by a “drone of the Islamic State army,” before apparently showing Cantlie walking in what he describes as the “so-called PKK safe zone.” (PKK refers to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.) Cantlie says the area is now controlled by the Islamic State, and he goes on to call Western media’s reporting on Kobane inaccurate.

The British hostage specifically singles out reporting by the International Business Times, the BBC and the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn. Cantlie argues that no Western reporters are in the city and thus are receiving their news only from “Kurdish commanders and White House press secretaries.”

Perhaps what’s most odd about the video is how much it apes the Western media it criticizes. The video begins with a logo “Inside ‘Ayn al Islam’ ” (a reference to what the Islamic State calls Kobane) and makes use of a number of relatively sophisticated graphics throughout. Cantlie, who may have been speaking under duress, brings to mind BBC correspondents in his presentation.

The Islamic State also uses the video to give its cynical version of recent events, notably suggesting that “good old John Kerry” has been criticizing “Kurd-hating Turkish President Erdogan.” Cantlie also makes reference to the cost of American airstrikes in Kobane (“almost half a billion dollars in total”) and a U.S. airdrop that accidentally landed in the hands of the Islamic State. “The mujahideen is now being resupplied, by the hopeless U.S. Air Force, who parachuted two crates of weapons and ammunition straight into the outstretched arms of the mujahideen,” he says.

At the end of the video, Cantlie says that media reports are wrong and that fighting in Kobane is almost over. “Urban warfare is about as nasty and as tough as it gets,” he says, “and it’s something of a specialty of the mujahideen.”

The airdrop Cantlie refers to happened last week.  It was supposed to be a load of weapons for the Kurdish militia in Kobani, but instead video of ISIS fighters gleefully helping themselves to bullets, grenades, and rocket launchers ended up plastered across the Internet.  Fortunately, the Pentagon says only one of 28 bundles dropped for the Kurds went off-course, and it’s not that big of a strategic loss, because (gulp) the Islamic State already has plenty of American munitions captured from the ineffectual Iraqi military.

The Turks finally loosened up and allowed a small contingent of Kurdish peshmerga fighters to travel through their airspace and reinforce the defenders of Kobani (or perhaps the liberators of Kobani, since a Turkish official told the BBC, “Saving Kobani, retaking Kobani and some area around Kobani from [ISIS], there’s a need for a military operation.”)  However, Turkey still insists that it won’t fully commit to fighting ISIS until the American war plan includes action against the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, which remains unlikely.

The assessment provided by Kurdish commanders to the BBC estimated that ISIS controls about 40 percent of Kobani, which is the claim the Islamic State disputes in its “tourist video”… and even if the Kurds are right, that’s basically a stalemate, since ISIS was said to control 40 percent of Kobani weeks ago, before the dawning of the Age of Ebola.  NBC News reported “huge explosions rocked Kobani” today after another round of coalition airstrikes, so the effort to dislodge the Islamic State remains intense.  It just doesn’t seem to have been terribly effective so far.

CNN published some gruesome testimony from captured ISIS fighters in a Kurdish prison, including stories of men pressed into military service by threats against their families, and pumped full of hallucinogenic drugs before being sent into battle.  Some of them were offered wives, in addition to cash payments for serving the caliphate.  The torture and mutilation of ISIS prisoners was discussed.  The end of the interview was unsettling:

It’s impossible for CNN to confirm whether anything the prisoners told us was true — or whether these men had merely been coached on what to say by their captors.

They also appeared to have little information about what was going on in the outside world.

One of the men, Suleiman, looks shocked when I tell him that a U.S.-led coalition that includes Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is conducting an aerial campaign bombarding ISIS targets.

“I hope they kill all of them,” Suleiman says, with what appear to be tears welling in his eyes.

All three men say it was a mistake to join ISIS. And they are begging their Kurdish captors for forgiveness.

But the Kurdish guards running this prison say that if set free, every one of these men would likely go back and rejoin ISIS.

Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign is so fierce that these guys didn’t even know about it?  Swell.

There was sad news yesterday that the “poster girl” for female Kurdish fighters in Kobani, a woman known as “Rehana” who claimed over 100 ISIS kills, had been captured and beheaded by the Islamic State.  Her death has not been officially confirmed, but ISIS – being ISIS – has been Tweeting out photos that purport to show a fighter holding up her severed head.

The Washington Post’s assessment of the anti-ISIS effort last weekend was as gloomy as anything Obama critics were saying, back when he launched Operation Goose My Poll Numbers:

An unlikely consensus is emerging across the ideological spectrum about the war against the Islamic State: President Obama???s strategy to ???degrade and eventually destroy??? the terrorist entity is unworkable. It???s not just that, as some administration officials say, more time is needed to accomplish complex tasks such as training Iraqi and Syrian forces. It???s that the military means the president has authorized cannot accomplish his announced aims.

As Islamic State forces continue to advance in Iraq???s Anbar province while besieging the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani, major weaknesses in the U.S.-led campaign have become apparent. One is a relatively modest tempo of airstrikes that in several cases has not been able to turn back advances by enemy forces. Another is the absence of ground trainers, advisers and special forces who could accompany Iraqi and Syrian forces, call in airstrikes and medical assistance, and help formulate tactics. A third is a de facto stance of neutrality toward the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, a stance that has allowed the regime to launch new offensives against the same rebel forces the United States is counting on to fight the Islamic State.

The limitations to the U.S. effort, which were mostly imposed by Mr. Obama, are prompting blunt assessments from senior Pentagon officials. ???We need a credible, moderate Syrian force, but we have not been willing to commit what it takes to build that force,??? one told The Post???s Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Said another officer: ???You cannot field an effective force if you???re not on the ground to advise and assist them.???

So “degrade and ultimately destroy” is a complete disaster.  How about Obama’s real objective, the one he inadvertently blurted out in a “gaffe” that derailed his media machine: “managing” the Islamic State as a permanent pain in the posterior?

Some on both the left and right in Washington are arguing that the appropriate response to the campaign???s deficiencies is for Mr. Obama to lower his ambitions; he should seek merely to prevent further expansion by the Islamic State or attacks on the homeland. The problem with a policy of containment, however, is that the infection of the Islamic State is spreading. Militant groups around the region are rallying to its cause, volunteers continue to travel to Syria, and popular support for it is dangerously evident in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

Mr. Obama has been right to fashion a broad coalition against the Islamic State and to try to build on local forces. But the United States will have to broaden its aims and increase its military commitment if the terrorists are to be defeated. At the least, Syrian rebel forces must be protected from attacks by the Assad regime and both Syrian and Iraqi units provided with U.S. advisers and air controllers. The longer Mr. Obama delays such steps, the greater the risk to vital U.S. interests.

I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for such bold leadership from Obama.  He’s not going to make war against Assad to satisfy the Turks and protect whatever meager portion of the Syrian resistance he can persuade to start resisting ISIS instead.  His primary objective was achieved: everyone got off his back about the Islamic State problem his negligence created, long enough for the news cycle to roll onward.  Sure, it rolled into the Ebola pothole, but at least it moved far enough to get Iraq and Syria off the front pages.  At this point, if Kobani falls, nobody will hear it.  That’s good enough for this White House.