Islamic State militants continued to shell the town of Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border yesterday, apparently undeterred by US-led airstrikes on their positions overnight.
The besieged settlement, populated mostly by Kurds, has been ringed by Islamic State (Isis) forces on three sides and pounded mercilessly by tank rounds and mortar fire. Yesterday the Kurds struck back when a woman suicide bomber, named on social media as Arin Mirkan, blew herself up at an Isis position on the town’s eastern fringe.
Among the thousands watching the town’s plight from the fourth side, along the Turkish border, despair has turned to anger and violent protests. Turkish forces responded by firing tear gas into the crowd. President Erdogan of Turkey has promised to prevent the town falling to Isis whatever the cost, but there has been no sign of any assistance on the ground for the Kurdish YPG forces defending Kobani. The airstrikes at Mistanour hill, a strategic position overlooking the town, forced Isis troops to ease their bombardment — but only for a short spell.
“Overnight there were new airstrikes. They struck three or four times in the vicinity of Mistanour hill,” Parwer Mohammed Ali, a translator with the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, in Kobani, said.
Idris Nassan, a Kobani official, said: “We are grateful for the airstrikes, but they are not enough. We need strong forces on the ground to finish Islamic State.
“We have been sending requests for military assistance for months, because we are fighting this battle for the whole world. But we have received nothing.”
Several thousand people have travelled to the border to watch the events unfolding in Kobani. Some are refugees who fled from the Isis advance on the town. During the day they can see smoke billowing over their neighbourhoods; by night red tracer bullets draw wide arcs across the sky and flashes of tank fire light up the horizon. Many of the men are in tears as they watch their homes and businesses burn.
Alongside them are members of Turkey’s Kurdish community who have travelled from across the country’s southeastern region to show solidarity. They are angry at their government for failing to help, and many have volunteered to fight with the YPG. “We can see the suffering of the people in Kobani, and we have to help them,” Kessam, a middle-aged Kurd from Sirnak, said. “We believe Islamic State is supported by the Turkish government. We don’t think the army will fight them.”
As the fighting intensified on Saturday morning, large groups of young men began gathering 50 metres from the border, ready to sprint towards the barbed-wire fence and evade Turkish forces to enter the besieged town.
“Fifty people have managed to get into Kobani today,” a man in his early twenties said as he co-ordinated the illegal border-jumping operation.
Some were well below fighting age. Murat said he was 17 but looked several years younger; a tough, chain-smoking teenager in shabby clothes who was taken to Turkey two weeks ago after being shot by a sniper. His left arm was still heavily bandaged, but he was adamant that he wanted to rejoin the fight.
He and three young friends were the bravest of the bunch. They bolted towards the fence in full view of an armoured police vehicle 20 metres away, retreating as it sounded its horn, and then trying again minutes later.
Just after 1pm a cheer went up: the YPG had scored a rare success, with one of their rockets landing directly on the Isis position to the east of the town.
There was still no sign of Turkish intervention, although by dawn yesterday security at the border was tightened. The patch of farmland where hundreds of people had gathered in the previous two days was sealed off.
All the while Islamic State was drawing closer to Kobani, its message of terror underlined by a picture posted on Twitter of an Isis fighter somewhere in Syria holding up the severed head of a woman: a shockingly repugnant image even by its brutal standards.