Kurds drive out IS, take back Kobane

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Despite apparent victory, analysts warn that IS still maintains heavy presence in Syrian Kurdistan

Kurdish fighters hold up the YPG flag in Kobane on Monday (Hevalno/Twitter)
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Friday 13 February 2015 10:00 UTC
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The Syrian town of Kobane has been fully liberated from the Islamic State (IS) group according to fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Idris Nassan, foreign affairs minister for the canton of Kobane, told Middle East Eye that the city was now "under the control of our forces."

“Maybe tomorrow is going to be the declaration of the freeing of Kobane as a whole,” he said, citing the continued presence of some IS fighters.

The YPG spokesperson Polat Jan on Monday announced on his Twitter feed: "Congratulations to humanity, Kurdistan, and the people of Kobane on the liberation of Kobane."

The Syrian Observatory on Human Rights (SOHR), an opposition NGO, corroborated the announcement, reporting that fighters had "expelled all Islamic State fighters from Kobane and have full control of the town".

"The Kurds are pursuing some jihadists on the eastern outskirts of Kobane, but there is no more fighting inside now," said SOHR head Rami Abdel Rahman.

A reporter from Rudaw, also acknowledged the victory, though reported that there was still mortar fire between the YPG and IS, who still control much of the surrounding area.

Nassan emphasised that what had occurred was only the freeing of the city of Kobane.

“We have about 400 villages under the control of IS, which means that the whole countryside of Kobane is still under the control of IS," he said. "The first stage is freeing the city, the second stage is freeing the countryside.”

However, he said he did not believe that Kobane city would again fall to the IS militants, citing the presence of airforces from the US-led anti-IS coalition.

“I think that IS will not be able to attack again on the city of Kobane, because now the jet fighters are keeping watch on what’s going on inside the city and around the city in the neighbouring countryside."

Kobane, located in a region of northwest Syria also known as Rojava or Syrian Kurdistan, had been under siege from IS since September 2014. 

While other long-term battles have continued on in Syria and Iraq, the fight in Kobane has received unparalleled media coverage.

Why the Kobane focus?

Analysts have offered a number of views on why the town – which had a population of 45,000 prior to the outbreak of war and is located in terrain heavily controlled by IS - is significant.

"Kobane symbolises the Kurdish resistance, not only in Syria but in other parts of the Middle East. Its loss would translate into a defeat for the entire Kurdish nation," says Sirwan Kajjo, a Syrian-Kurdish analyst based in the US, speaking to Al-Jazeera.

"The city has gained strategic importance now, partly because it is the first Syrian town to stand against ISIL for such a long time. Other Syrian towns and cities fell into ISIL hands without any resistance."

One aspect that's gained traction in coverage of the Kobane battle are images of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), the YPG’s female wing, in battle with IS. It seems many outlets have picked up on this angle to play up the battle as one between the YPG’s secular, progressive ideology and the perceived misogyny of IS.

Drawing parallels with the anti-fascist fighters in the Spanish Civil War, academic and anthropologist activist David Graeber painted the town as symbolic of a wider struggle in the region.

"If there is a parallel today to [Spanish dictator] Franco’s superficially devout, murderous Falangists, who would it be but Isis?" he wrote in the Guardian.

"If there is a parallel to the Mujeres Libres of Spain, who could it be but the courageous women defending the barricades in Kobane? Is the world – and this time most scandalously of all, the international left – really going to be complicit in letting history repeat itself?"

'Celebrating liberation'

Supporters of the Kurdish town, including non-Kurds, took to social media to praise the news, with many using the hashtag #KobaneAzad (FreeKobane):

File #Kobane

Though many have hailed the victory as a success for the YPG, members of the Free Syrian Army have fought alongside YPG fighters and the US-led coalition has targetted and bombed IS militants in Kobane. 

Kobane had been a source of tension for Kurds within Turkey, with the former accusing the latter of turning a blind-eye to IS’s campaign there and refusing to provide assistance.

The Turkish government has been reluctant to provide support to the YPG as they are a local wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a left-wing Kurdish militant group who have fought with the Turkish state since the 1970’s, with around 40,000 dead as a result.

In October 2014, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan further cemented Turkey’s position, claiming that for Turks, “the PKK is the same as ISIL. It is wrong to consider them as different from each other".