The Syrian border city of Kobani, which was under ISIS control since last September was liberated in January by mainly Kurdish YPG (men’s militia) and YPJ (women’s militia). Since then the Kurdish militias have advanced and are now liberating the entire region. Below is an up-to-date report on this advance that takes us right up to the present day.
Note: We also include an extract from an excellent video report from Channel 4’s ‘Unreported World’ – see end of this article. Near the end of the video are interviews with the Kurdish women fighters of the YPJ, who relish combating the women-hating and barbaric ISIS. Reminiscent of the anarchist Mujeres Libres militias of the Spanish civil war (1936-39), the YPJ, as also their anarchist Kurdish counterparts in Rojava province (Western Kurdistan), have made it clear that they regard this war as a war of liberation – in every sense – and that nothing less than social revolution is sought.
Back in January while the official spokesman for the YPG, Polat Can, announced the complete liberation of Kobani via Twitter, social media was a-buzz with images of celebrating resistance fighters, burned-out ISIS tanks and of course the iconic red-yellow-and-green flag of TEVDEM, the anarchist-inspired Movement for a Democratic Society, waving on top of the strategically important Mishtenur hill overlooking the city. But while Kobani was under siege, in the neighbouring cantons of Afrin and Cezire the revolution continued: people’s councils were set up, workers’ cooperatives developed and women actively engaged in the decision-making processes that are laying the foundations for a new society where power rises from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down.
Meanwhile, the entire Kobani province is being liberated: the timeline of how this has happened, day by day, is below…
Retaking the Kobani canton (wider region):
(Note: in this timeline ISIS is referred to as ISIL.)
On 27 January, YPG fighters recaptured the village of Helnej southeast of Kobanî, and they also besieged ISIL forces in the southern countryside of the city. On the next day, YPG and FSA fighters recaptured Kolama village, Seran mall, and Noroz hall.
By 6 February, YPG forces recaptured over 100 of the 350 villages in the Kobanî Canton that they had lost to ISIL during the previous year. Syrian Kurds fighting ISIL forces near Kobanî also stated that they faced “no resistance,” from ISIL forces, due to the fact that ISIL kept “withdrawing its fighters” whenever the Kurds entered another village. Most ISIL militants to the West of Kobani are ethnic Turks. Also, during this phase, some ISIL militants surrendered themselves to the Turkish border guards.
On 8 February, while ISIL steadily retreated from the villages to the south and the east of Kobanî, it was reported that the YPG and Syrian rebels faced stiff resistance from ISIL forces in the villages to the west of Kobanî, as ISIL wanted to retain control over their territory in the Aleppo Governorate. Also, experts voiced concerns that ISIL could return with a vengeance, given the group’s fluidity and history of counterattacking after apparent withdrawals. On 9 February, ISIL tactically withdrew some of its fighters and military hardware from other villages in the Aleppo province to reinforce the Kobanî frontline.
On 15 February, the YPG seized the Baghdak Hill and Jareqli Hill. The clashes resulted in the deaths of at least 35 ISIL militants and four YPG fighters.
On 16 February, YPG forces backed by rebels captured Khondan town, thus regaining control over 2,000 square kilometers of the northeastern Aleppo countryside. The next day, YPG and rebels seized the Aleppo-Hasakah road and seven villages in the ar-Raqqah province. The clashes resulted in the deaths of 10 ISIL militants and one YPG fighter.
On 26 February, it was reported that the YPG and FSA has retaken some of the last ISIL strongholds in the western Kobanî countryside, killing over 23 ISIL militants. It was also reported that a US-led Coalition airstrike targeted the local ISIL command center in al-Shuyookh Gharbi, killing at least 8 militants, including prominent leaders.
From 26 to 27 February, in a one-hundred-fourteenth round of airstrikes, the US-led Coalition carried out 13 airstrikes in the Kobanî Canton, striking an ISIL large tactical unit, eight ISIL tactical units, three ISIL fighting positions, and destroyed 21 ISIL fighting positions, two ISIL staging areas, two ISIL tanks, and three ISIL vehicles.
It was reported that Kurdish forces were planning to build on their advances and capture Tell Abyad, thus connecting the Kobanî Canton to the Jazira Canton.
By 1 March, YPG forces backed by Syrian rebels had recaptured 296 villages. It was also reported that ISIL was deploying reinforcements to the southern and eastern parts of the Kobanî Canton, as they wanted to prevent YPG and FSA forces from reaching the de-facto ISIL capital of Ar-Raqqah.
On 2 March, it was revealed that after a couple days of clashes, the YPG had retaken 9 villages, including Bexdik and Eydanê, as well as the hill near Derfilît. The YPG and allied forces also managed to repel an ISIL assault on Bexdik. The clashes resulted in the deaths of at least 67 ISIL militants and 7 YPG fighters, although an additional 4 YPG fighters were killed in a mine explosion triggered by ISIL-planted explosives in Gedas.
On 4 March, the YPG and FSA had advanced even further, and completely besieged the ISIL militants within the Le Farge Cement Plant, while pushing beyond it, with aid from US-led Coalion airstrikes. The clashes killed at least 31 ISIL militants.
On 6 March 2015, YPG and FSA fighters retook the villages of Shuyukh Tahtani and Shuyukh Fawqani, the only two remaining ISIL-held villages in the west part of the Kobanî Canton, on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. As a result, ISIL militants retreated to Jarabulus, before blowing up the western end of the Jarabulus Bridge, in order to prevent Kurdish forces from reaching that city. It was also reported that ISIL militants from Tell Abyad were crossing over into Turkey and re-emerging in the villages to the west of Tell Abyad, to stage attacks on Kurdish-held villages near the edge of the eastern frontline.
On 9 March, was reported that the YPG has advanced further southward and eastward, towards the direction of Tell Abyad, recapturing some villages in the process. As a result of the recent Kurdish gains, and the Kurdish advance towards the Sarrin Grain Silos, ISIL attempted to launch a counterattack from Sarrin, in the southern part of Kobanî Canton, capturing the villages of Jill, Khan-Mamdid and Sal. ISIL also assaulted several villages to the north of Sarrin. However, a Coalition airstrike halted the ISIL advance. Also, the US-led Coalition blew up an oil refinery at Al-Mumbteh, just northwest of Tell Abyad. The explosion killed 30 ISIL militants and refinery workers in the area. 13 YPG fighters were killed during the clashes in the Mandek area, west of the village of al-Jalabiyyi. It was also reported that the YPG and allied forces had begun shelling the ISIL-held city of Jarabulus, across the west bank of the Euphrates River. It was also reported that at least 15 ISIL militants were killed in clashes in the eastern Kobanî countryside, while 2 FSA fighters were killed by an IED that ISIL had planted near the Qara Qozak Bridge. The next day, the YPG recaptured Mandek, Khwaydan, Khan Mamed, and Hamdoun. The fighting left 15 Kurdish fighters and 12 ISIL fighters dead.
On 15 March, after a renewed YPG assault in Qara Qozak caused the ISIL defense there to collapse and forced them to retreat, ISIL militants blew up the Qara Qozak Bridge, to prevent YPG forces from crossing over to the west bank of the Euphrates. The clashes killed 30 ISIL militants and four YPG fighters.
On the next day, it was confirmed that all of the remaining ISIL fighters in Qara Qozak were either killed or surrendered to YPG forces, leaving YPG and FSA forces in full control of the town. By this time, a total of 45 ISIL militants had been killed at Qara Qozak, between 13 and 15 March. The US-led Coalition had also conducted airstrikes in the region in support of the YPG and FSA forces. With this, Kurdish forces had recaptured almost all of the villages previously lost to ISIL in their initial September 2014 assault on the Kobanî Canton. ISIL continued to maintain control of a few dozen villages they captured in the northwestern part of the Ar-Raqqah Governorate, as well as a few villages in the southern part of the Canton.
Over the next few days, YPG and FSA forces reportedly retook several villages in at the eastern boundary of the Kobanî Canton, and seized a hill overlooking the ISIL stronghold of Sarrin to the south. It was reported that ISIL was gathering reinforcements and massing its forces near Sarrin, to prevent Kurdish and allied forces from reaching the city, while the US-led Coalition conducted numerous airstrikes in the area. It was also reported that the Kurds seized the village of Sal in the southern Kobanî countryside on 18 March, but this was not confirmed. The clashes on 18 March resulted in the deaths of at least 27 ISIL militants.
On 20 March, the YPG, FSA, and the allied Burkan al-Furat, backed by Coalition air support, stormed Sarrin, the last remaining ISIL stronghold in the southern part of the Kobanî Canton. However, ISIL brought reinforcements into the city, and fierce clashes broke out in the area.
By 23 March, the YPG and FSA advanced even further, retaking some villages, including Tell Kharab, and advancing into several others, including Akbesh and Tell Kazan. Meanwhile, YPG and FSA forces continued advancing in the south towards Sarrin, completely besieging the Sarrin Grain Silos, and towards Tell Abyad, coming into conflict with ISIL forces in the region. During the fighting, Coalition aircraft continued providing air support, pounding ISIL positions in and near Sarrin. On 19 March, it was reported that the US-led Coalition destroyed the remainder of the Qara Qozak Bridge, to prevent ISIL reinforcements from reaching the city of Sarrin. A total of 71 ISIL militants and 1 FSA fighters were killed during the clashes and Coalition bombardments.
On 25 March, the YPG continued their advance towards Sarrin and Tell Abyad, capturing the village of Al-Jalabiyyi. ISIL forces attacked the village of Qara Qozak by boat, but the attack was repelled by the YPG and Coalition airstrikes struck the gathered ISIL forces on the other side of the river. Also, YPG and FSA forces continued to keep the Le Farge Cement Plant and the Sarrin Grain Silos under siege. ISIL dispatched reinforcements from the west Aleppo Governorate to Sarrin, across the Tishrin Dam, which the US-led Coalition refused to target, due to the risks that destroying the dam would pose to those living downstream. It was also reported that the US-led Coalition had elevated their airstrike activity in the region. The clashes led to the deaths of at least 71 ISIL militants and 4 YPG fighters.
On 27 March, violent clashes continued between ISIL and the YPG and their allies near Sarrin, even as the US-led Coalition intensified the airstrikes in the region. Additionally, clashes in the southern Kobanî villages of Sebti and Khani led to the deaths of 3 ISIL militants. On the same day, ISIL tried to sneak another boat patrol across the Euphrates River to Qara Qozak, but YPG snipers spotted the patrol and destroyed it. However, ISIL managed to deploy reinforcements across the river to Sarrin, via boats. Also, clashes continued to the north of Sarrin and in the west Ar-Raqqah countryside.