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U.S. Says Anti-IS Forces Control 90 Percent Of Kobani, Russian-Speaking Militants Deny It


The flag of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) flies in the Syrian town of Kobani of January 26.

The flag of the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) flies in the Syrian town of Kobani of January 26.

Kurdish militias, Syrian state media, and a Britain-based monitoring group have all reported that Kurdish forces have succeeded in pushing the Islamic State (IS) group out of the northern Syrian town of Kobani.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on January 27 that Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militias "could retake the entire city of Ayn al-Arab [Kobani] after violent clashes with IS militants lashed for 112 days."

However, SOHR added that YPG fighters were "still combing some houses in the eastern suburbs of the city, dismantling and detonating IEDs [improvised explosive devices]."

U.S. Central Command was slightly more cautious, tweeting on January 27 that anti-IS forces control about 90 percent of Kobani.

The U.S. Central Command added that the IS group's failure in Kobani had "denied them one of their strategic objectives."

The YPG Central Command, which also said that Kobani had been "entirely liberated" from IS, echoed this sentiment in a statement saying that "the defeat of [IS] will not remain limited in Kobani alone for it also means a psychological and spiritual collapse in the face of the will of the peoples."

Free Syrian Army factions who supported Kurdish forces against the IS group in Kobani also posted video declaring their victory.

A video posted to YouTube on January 26 showed claimed footage of the Free Syrian Army's Dawn of Freedom Brigades during the final push against IS. The video shows fighters celebrating and planting their flag.

Kurdish Reactions

In response to the reports that IS militants had been ousted from Kobani, Kurdish and pro-Kurdish accounts on social media exploded with images of celebrations and praise for the men and women of the YPG who had fought in Kobani.

Some Twitter users said that the IS group faced even greater humiliation after their defeat in Kobani, because some of the Kurdish militia fighting them were women.

According to Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a reporter and analyst focusing on Kurdish issues, as well as the victory for the YPG in Kobani, a new agreement has been reached between Syrian Kurds to implement the so-called Dohuk Agreement.

The Dohuk Agreement was reached in October between the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in the Syrian Kurdistan region and parties that are closer to the Kurdish regional government (KRG) in Iraq. The agreement entails a 30-member power-sharing council to run the Kurdish cantons in Syria.

Syrian State Media: 'Local Forces' Defeated IS

Syrian state media outlet SANA reported that "locals of Ayn al-Arab" -- the Arabic name for Kobani -- had "dismissed terrorists of [IS] and established full control of the city."

The SANA report did not say that the "locals" were Kurdish forces, nor did it mention or even hint at the U.S.-led air strikes that had supported the Kurdish forces in pushing IS militants out of Kobani.

"Ayn al-Arab city has been witnessing fierce clashes since last September between the locals and [IS] terrorists who had attacked the city to dominate it," SANA explained.

Russian-Speaking IS Militants: What Kurdish Victory?

Although there have been reports from Chechen militants fighting with IS that the IS group had started to withdraw from Kobani, some pro-IS accounts on January 27 took to social media to deny that the Kurdish forces had defeated IS.

A pro-IS spokesman who goes under the name of Murad Atayev, and who has been linked to North Caucasian and other Russian-speaking militants in the IS group, made a series of posts on Facebook and the VKontakte social-media sites, refuting reports of an IS defeat.

"Sources close to [IS] are reporting that IS reinforcements have arrived in Kobani. The situation has not changed and the mujahedin [militants] are retaining their current positions," Atayev wrote.

Atayev said that the reports of a Kurdish victory in Kobani were part of an "information war" waged against the IS group by "most news agencies including the Arab satellite channels." Atayev complained that the news agencies were relying on reports from the Britain-based monitoring group SOHR. "As you know there is a complete absence of correspondents in [Kobani]," he added.

In another post, Atayev said there was a "decisive battle" being waged between IS and "the YPG, the FSA, the Peshmerga and the anti-Islamic coalition," IS's name for the U.S.-led coalition against it.

While Atayev admitted that the Kurds "control a large part of the northwest and south of the city" but said that "the eastern part is still under IS control."

However, in a strange turn, Atayev went on to admit that the IS group had faced difficulties and heavy losses in Kobani and complained about those who were "secretly celebrating the victories of the infidels over the Muslims."

Atayev's admissions offer some insights into the pressure that was put on IS militants in Kobani by the U.S.-led air strikes and by the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

Atayev said that the "anti-Islamic coalition air force" had carried out "almost 30" air strikes against IS gunmen, which had "further weakened the defenses." During the ensuing clashes, "dozens were killed on both sides (our dead are in Paradise, Allah willing, and theirs are in Hell)," he added.

The pro-IS Russian-language spokesman said that the Turkey was ultimately to blame for the situation,

"The Turkish 'sultan' Erdogan is providing all possible assistance to progress the infidels' active assaults, and insisted on the fact that several hundred fighters from the irregular Peshmerga army came armed to the teeth with all kinds of weapons.... More than 1,000 Peshmerga are currently in Kobani and the rest are in Turkey controlling the supply of weapons and military equipment," Atayev said.

Atayev concluded by suggesting that the IS group were outnumbered in an unfair fight, but who were still defending themselves. "All of this multitude of devils against a small number of mujahedin [militants] who despite a cruel air and ground offensive are staunchly defending their positions to this day," Atayev wrote.

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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