“If we receive help, we can push them back,” Anwar Musalem, a Kurdish leader from the besieged Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, told us by telephone this week.
An attorney by trade, Musalem is one of the leaders of the Kurdish Defense Council. He is also one of the few local council members who have remained in Kobani in order to fend off Islamic State invaders.
In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post’s
sister publication Ma’ariv Hashavua, he told this reporter and Yasser Okbi that “the problem is that Islamic State has heavy weaponry.”
“In recent days, we saw T-57 tanks and Hummers on the outskirts of the town,” he said.
“We are being shelled with heavy artillery.”
Musalem said that thus far Islamic State fighters are occupying 40 percent of the town, particularly the suburbs, though they have been unsuccessful in gaining control of the city center.
“In the last week, they’ve sent truck bombs into the city center,” he said. “We are up against a superior fighting force that numbers over 10,000 men. Islamic State has also enlisted criminals from nearby regions, promising to give them the best houses in the city center if they join in the fighting. But we have managed to repel them. Hundreds of bodies [of Islamic State fighters] are scattered in the city center.”
Musalem declined to give a number as to how many Kurdish fighters are taking part in the defense of Kobani.
“You have to understand,” he said. “We have no interest in divulging military information to the terrorists.”
Kurdish women are also taking up arms and enlisting in the cause. The commander of the all-female units told Asharq al-Awsat this week that 500 women were fighting “at the head of the pack.”
Even if the number is a bit exaggerated, that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is a strong, impressive female contingent that is fighting for the Kurdish town’s survival. There are even rumors to the effect that Islamic State fighters are fearful of being killed by women since it would deny them the promised award of reaching paradise, where the services of 72 virgins await.
“If we receive military aid, with an emphasis on anti-tank weapons, ammunition and humanitarian aid food, and medicine, the town won’t fall, and ultimately we will prevail,” Musalem said.
“Even though there is a slight change in the Turkish position because of American pressure, we still need to see if this will be translated into serious action,” he said. “It’s hard for us to put stock in Turkish promises.”
Musalem was referring to various media reports – which have been denied – that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is showing more flexibility by agreeing to allow the United States and its NATO allies to use a Turkish military base for its aerial bombardments of Islamic State targets. Erdogan has thus far refused to join the campaign against Islamic State, although Turkey is a member of NATO.
According to Musalem, the town of Kobani, which lies just one kilometer from the Turkish border, numbers 15,000 Kurds, 700 of whom are elderly who either refuse to flee or are physically incapable of crossing the border. On the Turkish side of the border, there are hundreds of Kurds willing to aid their brethren, but the authorities have refused to allow them to cross over.
This is Turkish hypocrisy at its worst. Throughout the course of the civil war, Turkish authorities, including the military and other security services, knowingly permitted thousands of volunteers from around the world – including 30 Israeli Arabs – to traverse its territory and join rebel and insurgent forces in Syria and Iraq. These volunteers were primarily interested in joining Islamic State.
Kobani is of great strategic importance. It lies at crossroads.
Taking the town would permit the barbarians of Islamic State to use another access point along the Turkish border. It would also extend its control of Syria while giving it a considerable push in its campaign to reach the coast of the Mediterranean.
When asked if the Kurds expect aid from Israel, Musalem didn’t answer in a direct manner.
“We don’t have direct cooperation with Israel,” he said. “I don’t think Israel is involved in the war. But I also believe that every country in the world, every UN member state, is aware of and shares the concern regarding the dangers of terrorism. So it’s clear that it is in Israel’s interest, as well as the interest of every country, to assist us.”
Musalem would not even entertain the thought of what would happen if his Kurdish comrades fail to beat back the Islamic State onslaught.
“This will not happen,” he said.
A source in the Kurdish leadership told us through an intermediary that “we are also armed with knives in the event that we run out of fighters and we do not receive ammunition.”
“It’s obvious to us that we cannot leave our city,” the source said. “Islamic State will murder us, just like it has done in every other place it has overrun. We have no illusions. There are those among us who will prefer to commit suicide rather than fall captive in the hands of murderous terrorists.”
The Kurdish fighters of Kobani may end up turning into the modern-day version of the Jewish defenders of Masada who killed themselves rather than submit to the Romans.