Kurdish forces take control of Syrian town of Kobani

Monitoring group says YPG forces proceeding carefully in eastern outskirts where Isis planted mines before fleeing

A coalition of Kurdish and Syrian opposition forces claimed full control of Kobani on Monday, gaining an important symbolic victory over militants of Islamic State (Isis) who had besieged the Syrian-Kurdish city since September.

The victory marks a significant loss for Isis. The extremists’ hopes for an easy victory when they pushed into the town less than a mile from the Turkish border last year instead dissolved into a bloody, costly and months-long siege.

“After the conclusion of the military campaign in Kobani today the entire city is now free of Isis, and the YPG [a Syrian Kurdish force] continues their military operation against Isis militants in the surrounding villages,” said Asya Abdullah, co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Union party (PYD).

Iraqi Kurdish forces known as peshmerga were dispatched to assist Syrian Kurds, after the US had urged the reluctant Turkish government to let them join the fight against Isis.

A US-led military coalition has carried out air strikes against Isis positions and equipment almost every day in order to push the group out of the city and surrounding territories.

First Lieutenant Raed Hassan, from peshmerga forces based in Kobani, said: “Kobani is under Kurdish control now. This evening there was celebratory gunfire from YPG and peshmerga forces to announce the liberation of the city. Our job as peshmerga was to shell Da’esh [Isis] positions with rockets and cannons.”

Idris Nassan, the deputy foreign affairs minister of the Kobani administration, said the coalition forces of the YPG, Iraqi peshmerga and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters were still proceeding carefully in the eastern and south-eastern suburbs of Kobani, and no official announcement of the city’s liberation would be made until all districts were declared clear of Isis militants and mines.

A message on the official website of the Kurdistan presidency said: “Today we received the news of liberation of defiant Kobani. I congratulate all people of Kurdistan … This is the victory of humanity over the barbaric terrorists … It is an honour for people of Kurdistan to face the most evil terrorist organisation … and defeat it.

“On behalf of people of Kurdistan I thank the coalition forces for supporting the Kurdish warriors … I also thank Turkey for allowing the peshmerga to cross through its territory to support the Warriors in Kobani.”

US Central Command said last night that about 90% of Kobani was controlled by anti-Isis fighters. “US Central Command congratulates these courageous fighters and thanks them for their efforts.

“Anti-Isil [Isis] forces have fought aggressively with resilience and fortitude. While the fight against Isil is far from over, Isil’s failure in Kobani has denied them one of their strategic objectives.”

Meanwhile Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria and Turkey were celebrating the victory.

“People have been celebrating in the streets for hours, dancing and singing,” said a Kurdish journalist and activist, Özgür Amed, on the phone from the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir. “Everybody is very happy. The biggest danger, the fall of Kobani, has been averted.”

Adding that Tuesday marks the anniversary of Kobani being declared an autonomous enclave, he said that people were confident that the villages, too, would soon be freed from Isis.

Asya Abdullah added that the Kobani administration expected tens of thousands of displaced residents to return to the city in the coming weeks.

The months of fighting in and around Kobani drove more than 200,000 residents into Turkey. Last Sunday the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Management Authority opened its biggest refugee camp to date, a massive tent city able to house 35,000 refugees from Kobani, situated in the predominantly Kurdish border town of Suruç.

Nassan emphasised that the fight for Kobani did not end with the liberation of the city from Isis militants and urged the international community to provide urgent humanitarian support.

“Over 50% of the city has been destroyed by air strikes, shelling and during the fights between the YPG and Isis,” he said. “We lack everything: hospitals, food, medicine and drinking water. For those that will return to Kobani life will be very hard, and it will be impossible without immediate help from the international community.”

Nassan added that a humanitarian corridor was necessary to supply the city and assist those trying to rebuild it over the coming months.

“This is not just a task for Turkey, but for the whole of the international coalition that Turkey is part of. If they really want to see humanity prevail over Isis terrorism, they need to see this struggle through to the end, and help Kobani now.”


Constanze Letsch in Istanbul and Fazel Hawramy in Irbil

The GuardianTramp

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