Tel Abyad’s Fall with US Air Cover Is an Epic Coup against ISIS
Amid the welter of Middle East war news this week, the event standing out as most significant was the recapture of the ISIS-held northern border town of Tel Abyad on June 15 by a coalition of Kurdish YPG militia and the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces, backed by US air strikes.
The town in the northern ar-Raqqa province on the Turkish border had been held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant for six months.
The victory linked the Kurdish cantons of Kobani and Haskah into a contiguous zone of YPG control along the Turkish border. Most importantly, it placed a joint YPG-FSA force in position to advance south toward the ISIS Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.
It also cut the ISIS supply route for reinforcements and other essentials from Turkey.
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources report that, for once, the US aerial campaign against ISIS yielded a major strategic dividend. For Syria’s some 12 million to 14 million Kurds, it brought an unforeseen windfall, giving them hope to establish their own state in northern Syria. They would then overtake the semi-independent Iraqi Kurdish Republic (9 million), whose chances of gaining full independence are unclear.
The Kurdish forces achieved their rapid advance on Tel Abyad thanks to their cooperation with a coalition of Arab tribes, Assyrian paramilitary forces and Free Syrian Army-affiliated rebel factions. Now, they must decide whether to go full tilt against Raqqa or first consolidate their gains.
Sensing the turning tide, jihadi leaders directed Raqqa residents to stock up on food and prepare for a siege. (Click HERE to see full-size map)
Erdogan is second big loser after ISIS
The other big loser of the Kurds’ success is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His government has repeatedly condemned their YPG as a “terrorist gang” because of its connections with the outlawed Turkish Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).
On June 14, he warned that the YPG’s seizure of Tel Abyad “could lead to the creation of a structure that threatens our borders.” He indicated that Ankara would reassess its participation in the war on ISIS, considering the potential threat to Turkey’s borders posed by its consequences.
This was Erdogan’s second defeat in the past fortnight at Kurdish hands.
Votes for the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party in Turkey’s general election cost his ruling AKP (Justice and Development) party a majority in the Turkish parliament, by breaking through the 10 percent threshold to win 15 seats.
The Tel Abyad victory coming next put paid to the Turkish president’s dual game of backing the US-Saudi-supported rebel Army of Conquest, on the one hand, while turning a blind eye to his country serving as the corridor for ISIS recruits from across the Muslim world to join the jihadis in Syria.
The last two days have seen more welcome traffic going in the opposite direction, as refugees who fled ISIS rule in Tel Abyad started returning to their homes.