Kurdish forces from Iraq, Syria and Turkey have been fighting the Islamic State group for six months, and despite suffering significant losses, the Kurds are progressing. Kurdish forces have been defending the northern Syrian city of Kobani for nearly 90 days and though control has shifted several times during the fight, Kurds now hold most of the town, a Kurdish commander said Wednesday.
The battle for the city on the Turkish border has become a symbol of resistance in the fight against insurgents and a focal point of the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. A joint group of Kurdish forces including peshmerga fighters from Iraq, People’s Protection Unit forces (YPG) from Syria and Kurdish tribal fighters launched an offensive Wednesday after at least three coalition airstrikes earlier in the day.
The Kurds, historically divided into several factions, have shown unprecedented unity in the face of ISIS advances on Kurdish territory in Iraq and Syria. “Duress brings the Kurds together, and they’re more unified now than they were before,” David Phillips, the director of Columbia University’s program on peace-building and rights, and a senior adviser to the State Department for the last three administrations, recently told International Business Times. “The only group that has shown any mettle on the battlefield are the Kurds.”
“Currently the Kurdish forces control more than half of Kobani, because beside the Kurdish fighters, in some areas the Kurdish tribes have taken up arms against IS [ISIS] insurgents and controlled their areas,” a peshmerga commander, Brigadier General Miqdad, told BasNews.
Iraqi peshmerga forces, the armed wing of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, entered Kobani to fight alongside the Syrian Kurds' YPG units at the end of October.
Pershmerga forces have also been battling militants on their home front in northern Iraq, where ISIS militants have managed to seize a large portion of the Anbar province and besieged the Yazidi minority group living in Iraq’s Sinjar area. The militia of Turkey’s Kurdish population, the PKK, has also joined the fight in Mount Sinjar alongside peshmerga and Yazidi armed forces.
“Thanks to the support of our coalition partners that have provided our forces with military equipment, weapons and training, and thanks to the bravery of our peshmerga forces, we have managed to regain control of the vast majority of territory that had been occupied by the ISIS in early August,” said Minister Falah Mustafa, the head of the KRG Department of Foreign Relations, at a conference on Sunday.
Though officials are optimistic about the situation in Kobani and Kurdish advances in Iraq, the six-month mark of ISIS' offensive in Iraq and Syria also brought some bad news for the Kurds. Since ISIS invaded Iraq in June, 727 peshmerga troops have been killed and more than 3,500 wounded in battle, according to a statement from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga Ministry.
While the Kurds are largely united in the face of militant insurgency, their ranks have also suffered defections. Around 500 people from Iraqi Kurdistan joined ISIS since June, according to data obtained by BasNews from the regional government's Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs. 100 have been killed.