opinion web
Liberal Opinion Conservative Opinion
Austin Bay
Austin Bay
15 Oct 2014
The Wages of Smart Diplomacy

Four weeks ago President Barack Obama declared that organizing an effective international coalition was an … Read More.

8 Oct 2014
October 2014 Out of Control? Consider October 1944

According to former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, a frustrated President Barack Obama has given up on leading.… Read More.

24 Sep 2014
To Defeat the Islamic State Obama Needs Clausewitz, Not Alinsky

In a recent column assessing President Barack Obama's judgment (after six years in office), the Wall Street Journal'… Read More.

The Islamic State Decides to Fight for Khobane


The battle for the Syrian Kurd town of Khobane has emerged as an opportunity to deal the Islamic State a military and political defeat. Maximizing the opportunity, however, requires what has been most grievously missing from the struggle against the terrorists and their so-called caliphate: persuasive, coherent and steadfast American leadership.

On Sept. 16, IS fighters attacked Khobane. Capturing the town would have given them direct control of a major Syria-Turkey border crossing. It would also weaken Syrian Kurd resistance by denying Kurd militias a major supply and recruitment center.

Seizing Khobane also served propaganda purposes. From Turkish hills overlooking Khobane, international media would document the IS victory and the Turkish Army's presence but utter failure to intervene.

But thanks to Kurdish courage reinforced by U.S. airpower, Khobane withstood the initial attacks, withstood repeated assaults by reinforced IS fighters and then bore a sustained siege featuring a bitter street fighting.

On Oct. 19, Kurds in Khobane reported that IS fighters retreated. Reporters in Turkey speculated the siege had ended. Not so, Syrian Kurds said, but the terrorists had suffered severe casualties. One source claimed that during the last five weeks, 700 IS fighters have been killed in the area.

The figure strikes me as credible. The extended fight for Khobane forced IS fighters to mass (concentrate combat power) in order to sustain the fight. The IS has tube and rocket artillery and some armored vehicles, but several thousand fanatical fighters are its core combat resource. So the IS massed its manpower.

Until Khobane, the IS has responded to air attacks by dispersing its fighters; IS commanders do not want to give coalition targeteers a concentrated target. In many cases, IS fighters hide in civilian neighborhoods (ie, they use civilian non-combatants as human shields).

Khobane's location makes it a different case.

Anti-IS coalition aircraft had conducted approximately 135 air strikes in and around Khobane. Though the Obama administration continues to reject deploying U.S. ground combat forces, to include ground troops to control and coordinate air strikes, the Turkish soldiers on the northern hills are NATO troops. NATO employs a common doctrine for conducting airstrikes. Turkish Army brigades definitely have tactical air control teams.

The lesson for the Obama administration and its coalition of the less-than-willing: Effective air strikes require close air and ground coordination. Battles for other IS-controlled cities will not have NATO territory immediately next door.

As I write this column, British media report that Syrian Kurds Turkey has allowed them to receive military and medical supplies. Kurd fighters in Khobane are also communicating with the coalition. Given the short distance, all communication requires is a cellphone. Yes, you can use an iPhone to coordinate air strikes.

I see Khobane, another potential military upside. Five weeks of battle consumes a lot of ammunition. The IS relies on captured ammunition as a supply source. The coalition must target IS re-supply efforts.

Khobane also has political effects. The Turkish government publicly refuses to aid the Kurd Democratic Union Party. Turkey argues that the PYD is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party. The PKK has fought an on and off insurgency in Turkey since the early 1980s. Yet there is always a deep story, obscured by plausible deniability. This week, Turkey asked the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government to send a contingent of its peshmerga militiamen to Khobane. Anyway, the U.S. is now airdropping supplies into Khobane.

Yet Khobane is also a reminder of U.S. failure. The Obama administration missed the optimal moment to strike Islamic State fighters. That came — and went — in June as mobile columns of truck-mounted IS fighters left their bases in Eastern Syria and attacked Iraqi positions in Anbar province and Iraqi Kurdistan. "Soft-skinned" trucks in columns moving on desert roads are ideal targets for air strikes.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



0 Comments | Post Comment
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right: comments policy
Austin Bay
Oct. `14
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
28 29 30 1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31 1
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Authorís Podcast
Ray Hanania
Ray HananiaUpdated 23 Oct 2014
Matt Towery
Matt ToweryUpdated 23 Oct 2014
R. Emmett Tyrrell
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.Updated 23 Oct 2014

6 Aug 2008 "Rheostat Warfare": An Interview With Gen. David Petraeus

11 Mar 2009 The North Korean Tangle

4 Jul 2012 Mexico: A New PRI or the Old PRI in Disguise?