ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images
The Battle of Kobani
The Obama Administration, Turkey, and Syria’s Kurds

The U.S. needs to act quickly to stop the Islamic State from overrunning the Kurds in the Syrian border town of Kobani. The fall of Kobani would have a devastating impact not just on the Kurds in the region, but on the credibility of America’s anti-ISIS strategy as well.

Published on: October 7, 2014
Henri J. Barkey is a professor of international relations at Lehigh University. Eric S. Edelman is a former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey and was Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, 2005–09.
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  • Corlyss

    “The fall of Kobani will have a devastating impact on Kurds in the broader region.”

    Duh.

    Turkey ain’t gonna lift a finger to save Kobani until they are sure that most of the Kurds are dead. Turkey, unlike the US of late, looks after its own interests.

  • wigwag

    The question that I wish Ambassador Edelman would answer is whether the Turkish armed forces could take on ISIS in and around Kobani even if it wanted to. Didn’t the Ergenekon trials decimate Turkey’s senior officer corps? Doesn’t fealty to Erdogan and the AKP trump military competence when it comes to appointing Turkey’s senior officers? Is there any reason to believe that Turkey can mount a competent and effective military campaign?

    I don’t mean to be facetious but doesn’t the situation with Turkey’s armed forces resemble the situation with the Iraqi armed forces a little too closely for comfort?

    Yes I know that Turkey is a well equipped member of NATO while the Iraqi army had to be reconstituted from scratch. But we also know that the U.S. military spent tens of millions of dollars to train and arm the Iraqi army only to watch Iraqi officers scatter like frightened school girls at the first sign that they might have to actually engage ISIS and its ragtag irregulars.
    If what I’ve read is true, one of the big problems was that Malaki valued loyalty over competence and replaced many of his best officers (who were Sunni) with a more befuddled group of officers whose main virtue was the fact that they were Shia. The situation in Turkey may not be exactly the same, but the resemblance is something that should make us nervous. Erdogan replaced his best and most competent officers with an untested group who would remain quiet as church mice (mosque mice?) as Erdogan ripped the legacy of Mustafa Kemal to shreds.

    The Turkish armed forces have not had a lot of battles to fight in the past few decades; probably the biggest conflict they have been engaged in is with Turkey’s Kurds and the PKK. Considering how poorly Turkey’s fighting men have acquitted themselves in the fight against their own Kurdish countrymen, if I was a Syrian Kurd residing in Kobani, I wouldn’t trust the Turks to put up a good fight; even if they were inclined to do so.

    • Chris

      “If what I’ve read is true, one of the big problems was that Malaki valued loyalty over competence and replaced many of his best officers (who were Sunni) with a more befuddled group of officers whose main virtue was the fact that they were Shia. The situation in Turkey may not be exactly the same, but the resemblance is something that should make us nervous. Erdogan replaced his best and most competent officers with an untested group who would remain quiet as church mice (mosque mice?) as Erdogan ripped the legacy of Mustafa Kemal to shreds.”

      It makes you wonder, if ISIS charged over the Turkish border if one would see the old officer corps rehabilitated ala some Soviet Generals that were taken out of the gulag (Konstantin Rokosovsky comes to mind) and put back in charge of armies in 1941-42 when the Germans invaded.

  • Superb article — many thanks!

  • Sibir_RUS

    SCGNEWS. USA
    The Geopolitics of World War III
    http://scgnews.com/the-geopolitics-of-world-war-iii

  • Nathaniel Greene

    And just what is the US supposed to do? Parachute in the 101st Airborne? We know that a professor of international relations doesn’t live in the real world and a career diplomat who happened to serve in the DOD but has no military training, knowledge or expertise doesn’t either. Screaming “do something, do something” when there are no viable military options is just two civilians who think they are smarter than the military showing off.
    Oh, by the way, the 101st Airborne is fighting Ebola in Africa.

  • Arkeygeezer

    The Turkey, Kurd, Syria, Sunni quagmire is one which the United States should not be involved. We can provide air support, but ground troops can only be supplied by the locals. The Administration’s current pragmatic approach to this war seems to me to be the right one, and has my full support.

  • Pete

    1. ” … Turkey regards [ISIS] as misguided Islamic youths.”

    Oh sure. But lets remember that the Turks are a brutish people. Just ask the Armenians.

    2. “Both Turkey and the U.S. have the PKK on their official terrorism lists. Should the U.S. give support to a militia affiliated with a group on the State Department’s terrorism list?”

    Of course not.

    3. Clue to the clueless. The U.S. has no R2P. If and when we do, it should be low cost in blood and treasure and be in true national interest. Neither of those conditions are met in Iraq and Syria.

  • Kevin

    Too much tactics and too little strategy. What is the end state the US wishes to see here? What actions will get us towards that state? This current adventure just seems to be a reaction to the latest pictures on the evening news. Today we’re bomb IS, tomorrow Assad by next week we’ll be bombing someone else entirely. Obama needs to figure out what he wants the outcome to look like and then will the means to accomplish his plan. All I can see now resembling a plan is the desire to kick the can down the road past November 4th.

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