Why U.S. and allies can’t afford to let Kobani fall to Islamic State – Part 2

By PBS NewsHour

RELATED LINKSBefore ISIS: A history of beheadings to terrify, punish France launches first airstrike against Islamic militants A step forward in ISIS fight? Iraq lawmakers approve Sunni, Shiite ministers New airstrikes target Islamic State fighters holding dam in northern Iraq GWEN IFILL: And Margaret joins me now.

Margaret, the U.S. has said it wasn’t going to participate in these air drops. Something changed. What was it?

MARGARET WARNER: Absolutely. This is a big turnaround.

First of all, Gwen, this is the first time that the U.S. has directly supplied lethal aid, as they call it, to any Syrian rebel fighters. But, secondly, as you may recall, at the beginning of this operation, the Department of Defense thought this battle over Kobani was really a diversion. They didn’t even like having to do airstrikes. It’s not really essential to the fight against Islamic State.

But the more that Islamic State poured resources, men, materiel, heavy weapons in there, the more, one, they presented target, and the more they presented it as an important strategic victory as far as they were concerned. And the U.S. suddenly recognized that they could not afford to let Kobani fall, even though they are warning Kobani could fall, because it will just add to this sense of power on I.S.’ part. It’s a recruitment draw.

GWEN IFILL: Because they had that decided Kobani was important, we had to do something about that.

MARGARET WARNER: That’s right.

GWEN IFILL: But what about Turkey? They also switched positions. They were not going to get involved either.

MARGARET WARNER: Big switch, big switch.

First of all, you know, Turkey has been in a position to do a lot to help. They are sitting right there on the border. They have moved tanks right down there. They haven’t even used their artillery to help pummel some of those I.S. positions.

And, secondly, they have refused to let any Kurdish fighters cross, their own PKK, you know, their own insurgents, or original insurgents, or even civilians who have been dying to cross the line to go help their fellow Kurds. So, in speaking to a senior Turkish official just nine days ago, he said no way, no how either would we allow a corridor, as we showed on the map, in which these Iraqi Kurds, who actually have pretty good relations with Turkey, which I won’t get into why, cross over and come in and help.

That is a big turnaround.

GWEN IFILL: I’m also going to ask you about what — how — what caused both of them to change at the same time, because it is interesting to me. There was some tension between the U.S. and Turkey. And they both reversed themselves at the same moment. That can’t be by accident.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, it is not entirely by accident.

Here’s what I am told. First of all, the U.S. had grown increasingly frustrated with Turkey. Yes, there has been some cooperation. Yes, Turkey is now going to let its property be — its territory be used to train. But, basically, Turkey still hasn’t decided what it’s going to do.

And so apparently on this phone call on Saturday, when President Obama called President Erdogan, he said, look, we do share the goal of defeating ISIL, as he called it. He says, let me tell you, the fighters in Kobani are running out of time. Their lifeline is running out of time. Their timeline is…

GWEN IFILL: The president said this to Erdogan?

MARGARET WARNER: To Erdogan, I am told on good authority.

And he said, if we — if Kobani falls, it will hand a huge propaganda victory, it will hand a huge momentum to ISIL, and neither of us want that. So let me tell you what we are going to do.

Now, Erdogan wasn’t pleased with that. You could see that in those frosty comments he made yesterday, which we just ran. But this official said it was a productive conversation, that these two men actually, after some ups and downs over the last few years, have an ability to talk directly. And this official said, I can’t say why Turkey did what it did, but it knew what we were going to do. It criticized what we did, but you noticed we embraced what it did.

So coordination implies they get together and say, you do this, and I do this. Well, not quite, but…

GWEN IFILL: A little face-saving going on.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, but also an understanding.

And once — and once President Obama said, we’re going to do this, then Turkey has been facing international condemnation for doing nothing. They are this powerful NATO army sitting on the border letting these besieged fighters fight it off by themselves.

And last Thursday — I didn’t realize this until today — they lost a key vote, secret ballot, in the U.S. General Assembly to get one of these coveted seats on the U.N. Security Council. They have been lobbying for three years. They lost it by a 2-1 margin. And a lot of these little countries made clear this is why.

GWEN IFILL: So Turkey is no longer…

MARGARET WARNER: So, Turkey had a reason. If at this point, the U.S. was going do something, this is the least bad option for them.

GWEN IFILL: So, what happens going forward? We know that the U.S. has stepped up its airstrikes in and around Kobani. Now these airdrops of lethal weapons. Now this cooperation, at least for now with Turkey. Does that continue? Does that build? Is that — is that — is there going to be more?

MARGARET WARNER: Last night, there was late at night a background conference call on the phone, Gwen, with the — some of us reporters, in which basically, a U.S. official said, look, we’re going to do what is necessary.

I think if you look back to the operation to rescue the Yazidis, remember, on Sinjar Mountain…

GWEN IFILL: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: … once you get into doing airdrops, if they say, hey we’re out of materiel again, which the leaders down there are saying, we need — in five days, we will be, I think so.

But the other thing that is key to remember here is what — the Obama strategy, which he has laid out at West Point and he’s laid out over and over is, we don’t want to be the combat forces any more. We want to empower local forces. Here are the most effective local fighting forces, much more effective than the moderate Syrian rebels at the moment we’re supporting. And they happen to be the Kurds in Kobani.

And even though the Turks are apoplectic that there’s — there is an alliance between their insurgent Kurds and these Kurds, the fact is, I think this administration is now committed up to a point with airstrikes and airdrops.

GWEN IFILL: Feels like a minor turning point — maybe a major turning point.

MARGARET WARNER: I think it could be.

GWEN IFILL: Yes.

Margaret Warner, thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Thank you, Gwen.

The post Why U.S. and allies can’t afford to let Kobani fall to Islamic State – Part 2 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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