Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Turkish soldiers on tanks hold their positions on a hilltop in the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, overlooking Kobani in Syria where fighting had ben intensified between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab and its surrounding areas have been under attack since mid-September, with militants capturing dozens of nearby Kurdish villages. (Photo: AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The Last Days of Kobani Loom as ISIL Closes in on Syrian Kurds

Juan Cole

 by Informed Comment

ISIL fighters have advanced into the Kurdish Syrian city of Kobane (`Ayn al-`Arab), with fighting in the streets as Kurds resist, according to the pan-Arab daily, al-Hayat [Life]. Kobane, a city ordinarily of about 50,000, is the third biggest town in the Kurdish part of Syria (the far northeast). ISIL has taken dozens of nearby Kurdish villages, provoking an exodus of perhaps 300,000 refugees, with about 180,000 going to Turkey. Turkey now has over a million Syrian refugees.

Iran is complaining about the West hanging the Kurds out to dry.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan warned a Kurdish audience that Kobane could soon fall.

Erdogan says he is seeking authorization for a ground operation at Kobane. Erdogan doesn’t typically seek authorization for his actions, however, so that this is his story is suspicious and many Kurds think he does not want to intervene lest he inadvertently help the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas and their allies. Turkey fought a three-decade dirty war against the PKK from the 1970s to the 1990s, and the organization revived a bit after Washington overthrew Saddam Hussein and so allowed 5,000 of them to take refuge in Iraq (which borders eastern Turkey). Most Turkish Kurds are not separatists, but a small fringe is and Ankara fears any development that might strengthen the fringe and lead to a breakup of Turkey.

On Tuesday, thousands of Kurds demonstrated in cities all over Turkey against Erdogan’s lack of action, with some clashing with police. Ten Kurds were killed and dozens injured. For its part, Turkey called for more coalition airstrikes on ISIL.

Turkey’s secular centrist opposition party, the CHP, demands that its troops stay out of Syria.

CENTCOM (the US military command for the Middle East) announced that US, Saudi and United Arab Emirates war planes had conducted 5 bombing raids on the outskirts of Kobane on Tuesday. Kurds are complaining that they don’t seem to be effective in stopping ISIL’s advance.

My guess is that the US is hampered in precision strikes on ISIL positions and tanks by the lack of personnel on the ground who could paint lasers on them. The US military typically will not allow other forces to undertake this task for fear of their manipulating the US Air Force into attacking their enemies. Hitting a tank from 30,000 feet is almost impossible without smart munitions, and flying low is dangerous because ISIL might be able to shoot a plane down. One officer who had served in WW II once told me that if you bomb a tank and miss, you just get a scratched tank. You can’t do carpet bombing, either, in the vicinity of a city you are trying to save. The UAE and Saudi Arabia likely don’t have the technology to deploy precision-guided bombs or trained laser spotters. I hasten to say that I am not advocating putting spotters on the ground, simply analyzing why air raids are ineffective against a guerrilla group with a small armored unit (likely 25 tanks around Kobane, which is 25 more than the Kurds have).

Bottom line, Erdogan may be right, that these are the last days of Kobane before a deadly darkness falls.


© 2021 Juan Cole
Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His newest book, "Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires" was published in 2020. He is also the author of  "The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East" (2015) and "Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East" (2008).  He has appeared widely on television, radio, and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. 

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'There Is No Military Solution': Jayapal, Lee Demand Diplomacy on Ukraine

"We call upon our colleagues to allow the administration to find a diplomatic way out of this crisis," said the progressive Democrats.

Jake Johnson ·


Gun-Maker Slammed for 'Children's Assault Rifles' Based on AR-15

"At first glance, this comes across as a grotesque joke," said one gun control advocate. "On second look, it's just grotesque."

Jessica Corbett ·


Biden Urged to Nominate Black Woman to Supreme Court as Breyer Says He'll Retire

"President Biden has an opportunity to secure a seat on the bench for a justice committed to protecting our democracy and the constitutional rights of all Americans, including the freedom to vote."

Brett Wilkins ·


Dems Demand Biden Stop Maintaining Saudi Jets Causing 'Untold Suffering' in Yemen

"Continued servicing of these jets could make the United States complicit in these likely war crimes," tweeted Rep. Tom Malinowski.

Andrea Germanos ·


80+ Dems Tell Biden to Release Secret Memo on Student Debt Authority

Leaders in Biden's own party strongly disagree with his insistence that he doesn't have the authority to broadly cancel student debt.

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo