Turkey's 'Road to Damascus' Moment

October 24, 2014 8:20 PM

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The ongoing fighting in and around the Syrian town of Kobani nestled along the border with Turkey has captured the world's attention. With the assistance of U.S. air support, the Syrian Kurdish fighters have beaten back concerted attacks from the forces of the Islamic State. Now that Turkey has agreed to open up its borders so reinforcements can be deployed from Iraqi Kurdistan, there is hope that Kobani can hold, and, in doing so, deal the Islamic State a rare defeat. The military ramifications of the Kobani fighting have yet to be fully understood. The concentration of military resources on this geographically isolated town has resulted in the diversion of Kurdish and allied military capability away from other strategically important sectors, leaving them vulnerable to attack from the Islamic State. Indeed, a recent offensive in Anbar province, coupled with coordinated attacks by Islamic State fighters against 15 other targets in Syria and Iraq, underscores the military versatility of the Islamic State that goes far beyond a single battle for a remote town in Syria. The U.S. and Kurdish forces are fighting a largely reactive battle against an Islamic State enemy that holds the strategic initiative and is dictating the time and place of battle. Nothing about the Kobani fighting changes that reality.

The fighting in Kobani has exposed another weakness in the fragile coalition assembled by the United States to confront and defeat the Islamic State. The imagery of Turkish tanks standing idly along the border while, over the border, Syrian Kurds engage in a life-and-death struggle with Islamic Stat...

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