Kareem Shaheen in Beirut
Thursday 25 June 2015 10.00 BST
Islamic State militants flying the Free Syrian Army flag and disguised in FSA uniforms have launched an attack under the cover of darkness on the Syrian border town of Kobani.
The militants drove five vehicles into the town in the early hours of Thursday, used a suicide bomber to blow up a border crossing with Turkey, and began firing at random at inhabitants.
Around the same time, the group launched an assault on the north-eastern city of Hasakah, aided by militia who had been aligned with the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad but were converted to the Isis cause. Western districts were seized and the army was pushed into the city centre.
The surprise, two-pronged offensive came as Isis reels from several high-profile defeats near Raqqa, the capital of its self-declared caliphate and its seat of power in Syria.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia and an alliance of rebels known as the “Euphrates Volcano” – backed US-led coalition air strikes – have seized swathes of territory from Isis, including the strategic border town of Tal Abyad. In recent days they also wrested control of Brigade 93, a strategic base seized by Isis from the Syrian regime, and the town of Ain Issa,bringing them within 30 miles of Raqqa itself.
“Islamic State’s morale has collapsed after the advance in the Raqqa countryside,” said Redur Xelil, the YPG spokesman who provided the accounts of the latest Isis offensive. “They are trying to raise the morale of their fighters and supporters, and show that they still have strength and can strike out elsewhere.”
He also said that another goal of the Isis offensive may be to draw Kurdish troops away from the frontline to defend other territories.
Xelil said the militants who entered Kobani numbered between 30 and 40, and were holed up in buildings in the city after killing dozens of people, including women and children. The YPG, backed by the Kurdish Asayish security forces, were combing the area and he was confident they would defeat the militants. Clashes were still ongoing on Thursday morning.
“We will destroy this group that entered the city,” he said.
Late last year, Isis was on the verge of conquering Kobani, an enclave on the Turkish border, but Kurdish fighters backed by the US-led coalition ultimately succeeded in reversing the militants’ advance and liberating the city, killing over a thousand Isis fighters in a months-long battle that emerged as a symbol of the Kurds’ defiance. Many refugees who fled the city have since returned to their homes, many of which had been levelled during the fighting.
The joint Kurdish-rebel advance in recent weeks has provided a glimmer of hope in the fight against Isis. Last month, Isis seized the historic city of Palmyra in Homs province and Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar in Iraq, casting doubt on the entire strategy to contain the group.
File image allegedly shows Islamic State militants on the road to Hasakah in June 2014. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
The more serious threat is the Isis assault – its fourth – on Hasakah, a city divided between the Assad regime and the Kurds. Around midnight, Isis launched an offensive that has so far claimed the lives of 30 pro-regime troops and 20 militants, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group with a wide range of contacts inside Syria.
The attack triggered the flight of civilians from the area, and the regime has responded with a series of air strikes on militant positions south of the city. Isis used suicide bombers to soften up regime positions.
In a statement circulated on social media, Isis said it took control of western neighbourhoods and forced the regime’s troops to retreat to the city centre, seemingly in shock at what the militants described as a “daring operation”.
Xelil, who said the Kurds were not yet involved in the battle for Hasakah, said Isis had succeeded in winning the allegiance of members of the pro-Assad National Defence Forces – local militias that support the regime – allowing them to prepare the ground for the assault on the city.
The tactic is in keeping with the traditional Isis modus operandi of infiltrating areas prior to launching major assaults.
There’s lot’s of advice given here on this topic and that’s fair enough that’s what the comments are for I suppose, but whatever tactics Isis or the Kurds, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia or whatever other military personnel are involved including hundreds if not thousands western mercenaries that are fighting and dying every single day in this conflict, the final result will be a self defeating embarrassment for the Islamic people of the middle East and beyond.
So after millions of them have destroyed each other to the satisfaction of the western powers, and Assad is probably out of the way, then the United States will give the order that it’s time to call full time on these idiots.
Therefore time will be called on this massacre and Isis will be no more.
It’s just a waiting game manipulated by the Europeans and the USA, and when they decide that their aim of regime change in Syria is complete then will they put the final lid on all this slaughter of Muslim killing Muslim.
Sadly until that decision is finally made, many more men, woman and children will perish mostly in the name of religion, greed and power.
Vulgarus to Bigrunner
Your implication is that 'the West' is cynically sitting back and watching Muslims in the region kick lumps out of each other until the whole region becomes 'degraded?' Then the West steps in and seeks advantage from the chaos? You could well be right!
Bigrunner to Vulgarus
I wouldn’t say cynically, but what they seem to be doing is playing a waiting game, while at the same time giving token support to the opponents of Isis, the only benefactor’s from this bedlam will be Israel, Europe and the USA.
ID58608758 to Bigrunner
Qatar will get their pipeline through Syria and Turkey to Europe
Pomario to Bigrunner
The Syrians are suffering the fate that they richly deserve. That said, they allow themselves to be the pawns of the Iranians and of the Salafi petrostates. The Kurds are the lesser of the evils in the region.