Syrian Kurds Surround ISIS in Tal Abyad
By William Tucker
Chief Correspondent for In Homeland Security
Just a few months ago, ISIS had laid siege to the border city of Kobanionly to have the coalition airpower and Kurdish forces eject Islamic state fighters from the area. Since that time Kurdish forces have continued to push back in territory held by ISIS in the surrounding region. Now Kurdish forces have surrounded Tal Abyad and cut off the main roads running east-west along the Turkish border and have taken the road to Raqqa – the proclaimed capital of the Islamic State.
Kurdish troops currently in the area are soon to be bolstered by others from the surrounding region according to media reports. If coalition air support is provided it will certainly help the Kurdish cause, however the fighting is still likely to be prolonged and bloody. Though this is but one battle in a protracted and complicated conflict it is demonstrative of the fragmentation of the Syrian, and to a lesser extent, Iraqi states. What began as a fight to unseat Assad has devolved into a fight that is as much geographical as it is sectarian, but this battle soon to be in the offing between the Kurds and ISIS in Tal Abyad will have implications for Turkey.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said of the ensuing battle that, “he was troubled by the Kurdish advance.” He further stated that it might “lead to the creation of a structure that threatens our borders.” For the uninitiated, Turkey has long been opposed to the creation of a Kurdish state as it fears that its large Kurdish population would want to secede from Ankara’s rule and join any new Kurdish union. Though that has been a distant thought until the unseating of Saddam Hussein and the current disintegration of Syria the possibility, however remote, that the Kurds will use this new opening to better organize has taken on new urgency.
For the Kurds, however, the idea of a union and a consolidation of the Kurdish people into a singular state may be a dream, but the imperativeness of surviving the onslaught of ISIS is far more pressing in the short term. The long-term is another story. The fall of two authoritarian regimes under whom the Kurds have resided these many years has uncovered a weakness that cannot be tolerated. The Yedizis are a case in point as they have long sought shelter with Kurdish peoples in Iraq as protection, but the organized blitzkrieg that was ISIS challenged that paradigm. The Kurds proved to be just as vulnerable, only in greater number.
The Kurdish people have survived much since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, but are now a stateless people in a stateless region save for those Kurds indigenous to Turkey. Consolidation of those people in these seemingly borderless lands may be the only viable option for the Kurds if they are to survive. This places them at immediate odds with Turkey, and Erdogan sees the potential. But this creates a difficult situation for Turkey. Ankara must have stability on its southern border, yet to have that it would need for Iraq and Syria to once again become functioning nation-states.
The Kurds could become a nation-state in their own right and usher in some stability on the border, but threaten Turkey internally. These options, once seen as highly unlikely, have become more profound. Not only will it have an impact on Turkey and the Kurdish peoples, but on the wider region.
Though debate regarding ISIS and policy for dealing with the group is a vital topic of discussion, the wider Middle East is undergoing an unguided transformation that must be discussed. ISIS, Turkey, and the Kurds are just one part of a much wider issue.