Drone Appears Overhead as Islamic State Surrounds Kobane
U.S. surveillance could signal air strikes to aid Kurdish fighters near Turkey
Amak news agency reporting from Syria posted images online purporting to show an American Predator drone orbiting the skies of Kobane, a Syrian Kurdish town on the border with Turkey.
Kobane, also known as Ayn Al Arab, has been under siege by Islamic State militants since Sept. 15. Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units—a.k.a. the YPG militia—are fighting to hold back the Islamists.
The drone sighting follows similar reports back in early September of Predators orbiting over Ar Raqqa, Islamic State’s “capital” in eastern Syria. Not long after the drones appeared over Ar Raqqa, the U.S. and its allies began bombing the Islamists in that city and across the group’s territory.
If the Predator is any indication, the U.S. military appears to be monitoring Islamic State advances near Turkey, possibly collecting intelligence on potential targets for air strikes.
And not a moment too soon.
Escalation of the fighting has forced 160,000 Syrians to flee across the border into neighboring Turkey since late September. It’s possible that the militants are looking to secure a corridor into Turkey in order to bring in foreign fighters and supplies.
The most recent reports put Islamic State militants just one mile away from Kobane. The Islamists now surround the city on three sides. Sources on the ground say the YPG’s fighters are only lightly armed with Kalashnikovs and RPGs. Video uploaded by YPG-affiliated groups to Youtube suggest the Kurdish fighters are outmatched.
Other sources publishing video over the past month show just how heavily-armed Islamic State is. Videos depict the Islamist group deploying T-55 tanks, a BM-21 multiple rocket launcher, mortars, M-46 towed artillery and a ZSU-23–2 anti-aircraft gun in its attack on Kobane.
Some sources in Turkey report shells landing on the Turkish side of the border.
It’s possible to make educated guesses about how and where the militants got all this heavy weaponry. Back in July, Islamic State captured a base belonging to the Syrian army’s 121st Regiment, eight miles south of Al Hasakah in eastern Syria.
There the group managed to get a hold of the M-46s, the BM-21s and additional support equipment.
The following month, Islamic State scored another big win when it captured the Syrian 93rd Brigade’s base 40 miles southeast of Kobane. Video documenting Islamic State’s victory feature T-55s, additional M-46s and D-30 towed artillery.
According to activists on the ground, American warplanes have bombed this position as part of the U.S.-led alliance’s expanding aerial campaign targeting the militants in Iraq and Syria.
Should the U.S. bomb the Islamists around Kobane, Washington could find itself in the strange position of aiding “terrorists” in order to destroy terrorists. Turkey officially considers the YPG to be a terror organization, owing to its affiliation with the PKK, another Kurdish group that has launched attacks in Turkey.
On the other hand, the U.S. could pass intelligence along to Turkey so that Turkish forces can strike the militants’ positions. On Oct. 2, Turkey’s parliament voted 298 to 98 to allow the Turkish military to intervene in both Iraq and Syria.
Turkey must choose between supporting a militant Kurdish group or allowing Islamic State to run rampant along the border.