The U.S. – Syrian Kurds Alliance
The militant faction, People’s Protection Units (YPG), of the Democratic Union Party (PYG), a Kurdish political group in Northern Syria, has proven to be a valuable ally to the United States. The minority faction has relentlessly fought ISIS in the towns of Kobani and Tal Abyad, two essential border cities in Northern Syria. Both cities have a large Kurdish population; in Kobani the Kurds are a majority with about 200,000 people, and in Tal Abyad the Kurdish population constitutes about 40% of the city.
In Kobani, the Kurds have been fighting ISIS since September of 2014. ISIS’ perseverance for Kobani is due to the city’s strategic location. Located on the Syrian border with Turkey, control of Kobani would not only give the terrorist organization a direct route connecting its capital, Raqqa, with its strongholds in the Aleppo province, but also provide easy access into Turkey. ISIS began its conquest in September, when it took over multiple villages in the near vicinity of Kobani. By the first week of October, ISIS had taken control of the majority of the city, as their black flags rose to the skies representing their dominance. However, the Kurds did not surrender and by late October, with a combination of American airstrikes and YPG ground attacks, ISIS had been partly driven out of the city. Three months later in late January, the YPG recaptured Kobani in its entirety, cutting off important supply routes to Aleppo and Raqqa.
Tal Abyad, a city very similar to Kobani in that it is on the Turkish border and serves as a supply route to Raqqa from Turkey, has also been subject to battles between the Kurds and ISIS. Again, in coordination with U.S. – led coalition airstrikes the YPG drove ISIS out of Tal Abyad on June 16, delivering the Jihadists a huge blow. According to Liz Sly from the Washington Post, a reporter with fifteen years of experience covering the Middle East, “Tal Abyad commands the major trade and smuggling routes on which the Islamic State has relied for its supplies from the outside world and, most significant, the flow of foreign fighters to Raqqa, the first major city in conquered.” Additionally, the capture of Tal Abyad allowed the Kurds to continue their conquest on to the city of Ain Issa, only 30 miles from Raqqa.
The Kurdish victories in Kobani and Tal Abyad have been the fruits of their partnership with the U.S. – led coalition against ISIS, composed of dozens of nations worldwide. The U.S. has opted to ally with the YPG rather than the Syrian government, as it has expressed its wish for Assad, the Syrian President, to leave the administration. According to the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, in the fight against ISIS, the U.S. – led coalition has conducted over 5,000 airstrikes, many of them coordinated with the YPG. Secretary Carter has expressed a widely shared concern that airstrikes are not going to be enough against ISIS, highlighting the importance of a military on the ground. However, the Syrian Kurds have proven to be a worthy ally providing boots on the ground and capitalizing on the airstrikes against ISIS militants. During a senate hearing on the counter-ISIL strategy, when speaking of the Syrian Kurds, Secretary Carter said “[they] are an example of what we are looking for, which is an effective ground force that will stick up for itself, hold it together, and take and hold territory.” Due to the American-Kurdish coalition, ISIS is at one of its weakest times, having lost the strategic cities of Kobani and Tal Abyad, with Raqqa becoming vulnerable to potential Kurdish attacks.