The demonstrated capacities of the Kurds have not only surprised Islamic State and the other Salafi jihadists they are at war with. They have defied all predictions of those who stand against their struggle for national rights and sovereignty, including the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria; the capitalist governments in Ankara, Tehran and Baghdad; and the main imperialist world powers led by Washington. At the same time, the heroic battle for Kobani has inspired not only millions of Kurds, but working people and women throughout the region and beyond.
On Sept. 15 Islamic State, which has taken control of much of Syria and western Iraq, began its advance on Kobani, a city in northern Syria along the Turkish border. Outnumbering the Kurdish forces 3-1 and employing tanks and heavy artillery, the reactionaries took control of about a third of Kobani. But on Oct. 16 major news media reported that Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the city had not only held off Islamic State’s advance, but forced a partial retreat.
For at least a month, statements by U.S. officials and media commentary were saturated with fatalistic indifference about the supposed imminent fall of Kobani, the coming slaughter of Kurdish civilians and the city’s strategic insignificance for the U.S.-led war effort. Meanwhile, Turkish troops were amassed on the hills overlooking the besieged city. And with Kobani surrounded by Islamic State on three sides, Ankara sealed off its border, blocking the only corridor for reinforcements and badly needed weapons and ammunition to get in.
But as time wore on, the world watched and the Kurds gained sympathy and respect. Washington also recognized and began acting on the opportunity handed them to deal blows to Islamic State, which had concentrated some 10,000 fighters and heavy artillery around Kobani, overstretching their forces and supply lines. More than 135 U.S. airstrikes have been conducted in the area through Oct. 19, according to the Central Command, more than in any other area in Syria or Iraq.
Then on Oct. 19 U.S. C-130 aircraft conducted airdrops over Kobani. “The aircraft delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies that were provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq,” said a U.S. Central Command news release. Although the aid was limited, and some was accidently dropped on Islamic State-controlled territory, the move represented the first supplies the strapped Kurdish fighters in Syria had received. At the same time, the U.S. military statement added that “Kobani could still fall.”
The following day while visiting Indonesia, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that the military airdrop did not represent a change in U.S. policy. It was a “momentary effort,” he emphasized.
The YPG in Syria is tied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been designated as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” by the U.S. State Department since the list was first drawn up in 1997. Until a cease-fire last year, the PKK had fought the Turkish government in a three-decade armed struggle for Kurdish rights and greater autonomy. Until now, the only aid Washington had given Kurdish forces had been some limited weapons and training to the Peshmerga army of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq.
Hours after the U.S. airdrops, the Turkish government announced that Peshmerga forces from northern Iraq would now be allowed to travel across Turkey to join the battle for Kobani.
Kurdish women lead combat unitsThe Kurdish people were denied a country when the imperialist victors of World War I carved up the Middle East. Today this oppressed nationality comprises some 30 million people in a region that spans parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Their decades-long struggle has opened space for toilers and women in the region, a fact that is evident in the substantial proportion of Kurdish combatants who are women.
More and more articles have recognized this aspect of Kurdish units as their battle against Islamic State unfolds, with headlines like “Meet the Badass Women Fighting the Islamic State” in Foreign Policy, and “These Remarkable Women Are Fighting ISIS. It’s Time You Know Who They Are” in women’s fashion magazine Marie Claire, which include photos and profiles. “Kurdish Women Fight on Front Lines Against Islamic State,” headlined a major front-page article in the Oct. 17 Wall Street Journal. An estimated one-third of the Syrian Kurdish combatants in Syria are women and a higher proportion are commanders, leading women and men into battle.
“When I walk with my gun, the men who haven’t volunteered keep their eyes down around me,” Dilar, 19, who recently returned to her village after battling Islamic State near the town Ras al-Ayn along Turkish border, told the Journal. “My bravery shames them.”
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