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Kurds Claim Gains In Kobani As Chechen Militant Says IS Withdrawing


Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Kobani after an air strike as seen from the Turkish-Syrian border.

Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Kobani after an air strike as seen from the Turkish-Syrian border.

Kurdish militia fighters have claimed that they have made advances against the Islamic State (IS) group in the northern Syrian town of Kobani.

The Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) were in control of as much as 90 percent of Kobani early on January 26.

The fighters, led by Mahmoud Barkhadan, had advanced against IS militants in the neighborhoods of Kani Erban and Maqtalah, SOHR said.

An ethnic Chechen militant from Germany who belongs to the IS group's Russian-speaking Katibat Al-Aqsa faction, which has been fighting in Kobani, said via an account on the Russian social network VKontakte on January 25 that the faction was sending its militants back from Kobani.

The fighter, who calls himself Adam al-Almani ("the German") wrote that, "they are reporting that the infidels [Kurdish forces] have taken Kobani, today the last ranks of our brigade returned."

In a later comment on January 25, Almani clarified his report. "Brothers who recently arrived from there [Kobani] told me that they are the last ones who have left from there," he wrote.

On January 23, Almani reported that the "infidels" -- the IS group's term for anyone it designates as non-Muslims, in this case a reference to the Kurds -- were making gains and threatening IS positions in Kobani. Almani's report also shows that the Kurdish forces have been supported effectively by U.S.-led air strikes.

"The infidels once again entrenched themselves on a hilltop near Kobani, fortified their position there and set up a big spotlight that illuminates the city from above, which allows the infidels to operate snipers. Naturally this was done to the best of their cowardice and boldness, after dropping several dozen bombs from the F11B2 airplane [a strategic bomber]," Almani wrote.

Almani is likely referring to Mistenur Hill, which overlooks Kobani and which Kurdish forces reported capturing in recent days.

Judging by Almani's comments, IS militants have had to change their fighting tactics in order to avoid the U.S.-led air strikes on Kobani. "By the grace of Allah, no one was there, the mujahedin [militants] are not so stupid as to be out in the open, Allah has given us enough experience in this case," Almani wrote.

According to Thomas Pierret, a specialist on Syria from the University of Edinburgh, "75 percent of all U.S. air strikes were on Kobani." "You give any force on the ground that kind of aerial support and they will get the upper hand," Pierret told the Kurdish news website Ekurd on January 18.

In this January 23 post, two days before he reported that IS militants -- at least from the Chechen battalion -- were withdrawing from Kobani -- Almani also offers some interesting insights into the IS group's strategy in Kobani and suggests that the militants might well retreat rather than surrender or admit defeat.

"The mujahedin are not going to surrender and retreat, they will withdraw only in the case that there is nothing to hold as a front line, as the infidels are bombing and demolishing entire neighborhoods," Almani wrote.

The ethnic Chechen IS militant then said that the battle for Kobani was "only a small battle."

"Sooner or later we will win, if not in this town then in the next. It is not the first and not the last battle, the real battle is yet to come and the war will be won in Dabiq [a small town in northern Aleppo Province in Syria, where -- according to a hadith -- Muslims and "Rome" (i.e. the West) will fight a decisive battle] this is only a small battle in which Allah teaches us patience!" he wrote.

Almani's comment, of course, belies the resources and efforts that the IS group has poured into the fighting for the predominantly Kurdish town. According to Kurdish affairs analyst Mutlu Civiroglu, IS has lost "hundreds of fighters, millions of dollars of weapons, and the image that wherever IS goes no one can stop them."

-- 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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