Kurds defending Kobani risk running out of ammunition as Islamic State surrounds the town and Turkey controls their only outlet, according to a Kurdish lawmaker in Turkey and observers of the fighting in Syria.
While Islamic State exploits supply lines through Syria to Iraq, where they’ve seized U.S.-made weaponry abandoned by the Iraqi army, Kobani’s Kurds are encircled on three sides with their backs pressed up against Turkey’s border. That leaves them largely dependent for resupply on a country that brands them as terrorists, defining them as a threat equal to that posed by the Islamist extremists they’re fighting.
Turkish control over the narrowing supply routes for Kobani raises questions about how long the Kurds can hold out against their well-equipped foes. The town’s defenders are militiamen of the YPG, an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, the separatist group long viewed as Turkey’s top security threat.
“Turkey must open a corridor for shipment of ammunition to the YPG as well as volunteers to fight,” said Onur Alp, a Kurd who’s been camping near the border with friends from Turkey’s eastern Agri province, looking for an opportunity to sneak across to join the battle for Kobani. “They are running short on ammunition and we don’t know how long they can stand.”
Turkey’s perceived failure to help the Kurds of Kobani has enraged its own Kurdish minority. Riots broke out across the largely Kurdish southeast this week, leaving more than 30 people dead and curfews in force in several towns.
Across the border in Kobani, a three-week siege has turned into street fighting after the militants penetrated the town’s outskirts. Observers from the Turkish side say they’ve learned to identify which group is shooting by the pace of firing.
“Islamists open automatic fire while Kurds are careful to fire single shots,” Faysal Sariyildiz, a Kurdish lawmaker in Turkey’s parliament who’s been monitoring the battle, said in an interview. “They are careful with ammunition since they don’t have logistics supplies like Islamic State.”
The force these Kurds are up against is “the richest terrorist organization in the world,” according toAnthony Skinner, head of analysis at U.K.-based forecasting company Maplecroft.
By comparison, the Kurds in Kobani are lightly armed, mostly using Russian-designed weapons including AK-47, or “Kalashnikov” assault rifles, and a DShK heavy machine gun designed as an anti-aircraft weapon and used during World War II. The Kurds load the DShKs onto the backs of pickup trucks and call them “doshkas,” or “sweeties.”
‘About to Fall’
Even with that mismatch in weapons, the YPG is “the armed group in Syria that has registered the greatest success in fighting the Islamic State,” Skinner said.
Turkey has placed troops on the border and says it will allow only humanitarian supplies to cross. While Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Oct. 7 that Turkey would do “everything possible to help the people of Kobani,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the same day that the city was about to fall to Islamic State. Erdogan said in the same speech that Turkey is opposed to the PKK as much as to Islamic State.
Ibrahim Kurdo, a local official in Kobani, said by phone yesterday that supplies of ammunition were a military issue he couldn’t address. Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Kurds’ political leadership, also refused to comment on supplies. He said by phone that he and about 160 Kobani residents had been detained by Turkish authorities in the village of Aligor.
Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, accused Turkey of “selective aid” to Syria. Turkey aided the Islamists with some 2,000 trucks of weapons, Demirtas said at a press conference yesterday in Diyarbakir, the main city in southeast Turkey. The Turkish government has repeatedly denied helping Islamic State.
While the U.S. has increased bombing of Islamic State positions around Kobani in recent days, it says that it’s not working with ground forces in Syria in the same way as Iraq, where airstrikes against the jihadists are coordinated with Kurdish irregulars as well as the Iraqi army.
The U.S. lacks a “willing, capable partner” to support on the ground in Syria, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said on Oct. 8. Central Command said it carried out nine airstrikes around Kobani yesterday and the previous day.
“The U.S. has been hesitant in providing arms to the YPG, both because of its ties to the PKK, which is a designated terrorist organization in the U.S. and EU — and also because of its alliance with Turkey,” Merve Tahiroglu, an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a research group in Washington, said by e-mail.
‘With Bare Hands’
The plight of Kobani’s defenders is evident to the mostly Kurdish residents of Mursitpinar near the border, watching the fighting from makeshift camps in a cotton field. Their homes were evacuated as errant shells from Syria fell nearby.
“A 14-year-old boy came this afternoon,” Sukru Otkun, one of the villagers, said in an interview. “He said they had enough ammunition only for two or three days.”
Halime, another villager, who declined to give her surname citing security concerns, said she’s furious that Islamic State was being allowed to capture her people’s land, and ready to fight them even without guns. “I would strangle them with my bare hands if possible,” she said. Bloomberg