About 200 fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have been killed in a recent offensive against a Kurdish-held area of northern Syria, according to Kurdish officials.
They gave no estimate of Kurdish casualties in several days of fighting in which the jihadists, who last month seized a swathe of territory across the border in Iraq, targeted the city of Kobane.
Reinforced with advanced weaponry captured from the Iraqi army in the fall of Mosul, ISIS forces last Wednesday attacked villages to the west of Kobane using 10 tanks and other armoured vehicles against forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
On Friday, the YPG withdrew from a number of villages, in what it described as a tactical retreat, after ISIS bombarded the area with more than 3000 mortars. YPG units have since retaken Zormixar, a strategic village overlooking the town of Jarablus, as well as Khrab Ato, Bayadia, Ziyareteh and Jadidah, according to local officials.
They also reported that ISIS was holding hostage hundreds of civilians in Jarablus and Tall Abyad. These include 130 Kurdish students seized as they were returning from school examinations in Aleppo. Despite an international outcry, ISIS has refused to free them in the hope of using them to put pressure on the YPG.
The capture of Kobane would be a strategic triumph for the ISIS, which has declared an Islamic state spanning the borders of Syria and Iraq since it launched its Iraq offensive last month. The militants control two oilfields in Syria, as well as Girsespi, Jarablus and Raqqah. It desperately needs Kobane to connect the regions under its control and expand the self-declared Islamic state.
Kobane also borders Suruc in Turkey’s Sanliurfa province. Control of the city would hand ISIS the Mursitpinar border post with Turkey.
The loss of Kobane would be a serious blow to the Kurds, who declared autonomy in three Rojava cantons last year and have succeeded in keeping at bay ISIS and other Islamist factions.
Kobane was the first city in Rojava to be freed from Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime in 2012. Local officials expect ISIS to increase its attacks in the run-up to the second anniversary of Kurdish takeover of the city.
Another ISIS target is Hasakah, currently divided among forces of the YPG, the Damascus government, and other opposition groups.
It is an important road junction near the Turkish and Iraqi borders and also an important agricultural region.