EXCLUSIVE: ‘It is not the end of fighting in Kobani’ – expert fears IS could return
KURDISH fighters may be dancing and shouting with joy in the deserted streets of war-torn Kobani, but a Middle East expert has warned it is “too soon” to celebrate victory.
By AARON BROWN
It has been 11 days since Kurdish forces first reported flushing out Islamic State militants from the key Syrian border town of Kobani.
The brutal terror group had laid siege to the pivotal town, which sits just metres from Syria’s northern border with Turkey, for more than four months.
Some 200,000 people – almost the entire population of Kobani province – fled the area to seek shelter across the Turkish border when the fighting began.
In recent days, since the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitoring group declared victory over Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), a slow trickle of refugees and fighters have returned to the crumbling city.
Their hopes were summed up Tevfik Kanat, a Turkish Kurd who crossed the border with hundreds of others from Kobani upon hearing the news.
He said: “People are dancing and singing, there are fireworks. Everyone feels a huge sense of relief.”
However, despite brightly coloured Kurdish flags now flying in the place of jet-black Islamic State banners, Dr Natasha Underhill – a senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University – has cautioned “it is not the end of fighting in Kobani”.
“We need to be hyper-aware that this group is known for its fluid nature,” she added.
“Islamic State are known for moving really quickly from one location to another and reforming, re-strategising and then coming back.
“We’ve seen it in Kobani before – we’ve seen ISIS be pushed back only to return en-masse to retake the territory.”
Photographs from inside Kobani taken in the past week reveal the devastation and bloodshed caused by the drawn-out siege.
Unexploded shells are pictured buried into the walls of family homes and the twisted bodies of cars are strewn along the streets.
Since the Islamic State first took large parts of the battlefield town, daily US-led airstrikes bombarded militants’ positions in Kobani’s streets.
In the past six weeks alone, coalition forces have launched more than 270 airstrikes in Kobani out of a total of 333 strikes in Syria, according to US military statistics.
Reflecting on the devastation inside the town, one Kurdish fighter said: “This city needs to be rebuilt from scratch. Everything is destroyed.”
Yesterday, US-led airstrikes re-started in the area as the Combined Joint Task Force dropped ten fresh strikes outside of Kobani.
The recapture of Kobani from jihadists had been hailed as a key victory, as the town had become a focal point in the international campaign against Islamic State.
“This victory is for the Syrian people, but it is a first step,” said Idris Nassan, a senior official in Kobani.
“We have to continue until we destroy ISIS. If they remain in Syria, Iraq or other places in the world, they will attack us again.”
SOHR estimates some 3,700 Islamic State fighters died inside Kobani during the assault, although the radical group still remain in control of huge swathes Syria and Iraq.
As well as expanding territory in the Middle East, an Islamic State operative recently claimed the group has successfully smuggled thousands of covert jihadists into Europe.
He revealed the extremists are taking advantage of Western nations’ generosity towards refugees to infiltrate Europe and claimed there are more than 4,000 covert Islamic State gunmen “ready” across the European Union.