Experts: Kobane defeat a sign of ISIS weakening

ISIS militants were this keep routed at the key Syrian border town, but the group may yet prove its staying power, experts say

Paul Crompton
Paul Crompton - Al Arabiya News
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The rout of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the long-embattled Syrian border town of Kobane is a sign that the militant group can be weakened and beaten, experts told Al Arabiya News.

The fight over Kobane – which began in September last year – reached a conclusion this week after Kurdish fighters aided by heavy coalition airstrikes regained full control of the city, an event hailed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as a “big deal.”

ISIS’s defeat in Kobane “demonstrates that it is more adept at propaganda, terrorism and light guerrilla warfare than it is about performing as a significant military force when faced by a determined enemy,” said Michael Ryan, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute and the author of “Decoding al-Qaeda's Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America.”

The group’s “actual fighting force is probably much smaller than its overall reported numbers might suggest and thus the loss of hundreds of fighters is likely a significant blow to its power base,” he added.

Although ISIS is “far from defeated” in Syria and Iraq, the loss of Kobane is a major blow to the group and shows that it “can be beaten,” Ryan said.

But the success in the ground campaign by Kurdish fighters – including the Peshmerga from Iraq’s Kurdistan – could have come much faster if the Kurds were better equipped by their Western allies, some experts say.

“One of ISIS’s primary assets since June 2014 has been the aura of momentum generated by its military gains,” said Noah Bonsey, a Syria analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, referring to the group’s sweeping takeover of the Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul in summer last year.

”The battle of Kobane halted that momentum in Syria, and in that sense ISIS's loss there is significant,” he added.

Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut, said that there is “no question” that ISIS has been contained.

“ISIS is sustaining tremendous losses and, even though it has not yet been decimated, it is only a question of time before it is convincingly defeated.”

But the Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition - as well as other groups fighting ISIS on the ground in Syria and Iraq - should not rest on their laurels.

“We should not be surprised if [ISIS] attempts further attacks against Kobane in the future in an attempt to erase what is widely perceived as a defeat,” said Ryan.

ISIS’s steady stream of recruitment - with new fighters reportedly continuing to trickle in - could preserve the group’s staying power, Bonsey said.

The resolve of Arab countries to combat ISIS may have been strengthened this week after the release of a gruesome video showing the burning alive of captured Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh at the hands of the militants.

News of his killing spurred Jordan - a neighbor of Iraq and Syria and an ally in the U.S.-led coalition - against the group to step up its bombing campaigns, reportedly killing 55 militants on Thursday.

Additionally, such “Medieval thinking cannot possibly win against the 21st century,” said Khashan. “ISIS is out of place and out of time.”

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