TIME Syria

Report Details Possible U.S. Misfires in Syria

ISIS posts videos apparently showing U.S. air drops and airstrikes that failed

The United States military has made a series of failures in its airstrikes and airdrops in its campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to a report on a respected defence website.

According to Jane’s, a publisher of military-related information, arms destined for Kurdish fighters defending the Syrian town of Kobani, which abuts the Turkish border, fell into the hands of ISIS while a number of U.S. missiles aimed at ISIS targets reportedly failed to detonate.

The report features images and video taken from ISIS media channels. One video appears to show boxes of ammunition and grenades in nets attached to a parachute. According to Jane’s, the images show a U.S. Joint Precision Airdrop System, which uses GPS to reach its correct destination. The Pentagon has said it is examining the video, reports the BBC.

Other ISIS videos featured in the Jane’s report appear to show U.S. missiles that failed to explode on impact.

[Jane's]

[BBC]

TIME Syria

US Airdrop to Kurdish Fighters Seized by ISIS

Syrian Kurds Battle IS To Retain Control Of Kobani
Smoke rises through the air after an explosion rocks Syrian city of Kobane on October 20, 2014. Gokhan Sahin—Getty Images

ISIS-affiliated social media accounts posted sarcastic "thank you" notes to social media

A U.S. airdrop intended to arm Kurdish fighters in northern Syria ended up in the hands of Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) fighters, local activists said Tuesday, underscoring the challenge of arming Kurdish fighters along fluid and ill-defined battle lines.

ISIS-affiliated social media accounts filled with images of what appeared to be the intercepted weapons cache, which included ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades, along with sarcastic thank you notes to “Team USA.” Activists for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Associated Press that ISIS fighters had seized at least one package.

The U.S. deployed three C-130 cargo planes on Monday to airdrop supplies to the embattled bordertown of Kobani, as Kurdish forces struggled to repel an onslaught of IS fighters near the Turkish border.

[AP]

TIME Turkey

Turkey Says It Helps Kurdish Fighters Enter Syria

Kurdish people observe smoke rising from the Syrian town of Kobani following an explosion as seen from the southeastern Turkish village of Mursitpinar in the Sanliurfa province on October 20, 2014.
Kurdish people observe smoke rising from the Syrian town of Kobani following an explosion as seen from the southeastern Turkish village of Mursitpinar in the Sanliurfa province on October 20, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

(SURUC, Turkey) — Turkey said it was helping Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross into Syria to support their brethren fighting Islamic State militants in a key border town, although activists inside embattled Kobani said no forces had arrived by Monday evening, raising questions about whether the mission was really underway.

The statement by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu came hours after the U.S. airdropped weapons and ammunition to resupply Kurdish fighters for the first time. Those airdrops Sunday followed weeks of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition in and near Kobani.

After a relative calm, heavy fighting erupted in the town as dusk fell, with the clatter of small arms and tracer fire, as well as the thud of mortar rounds and big explosions of two airstrikes that resounded across the frontier.

“We are helping peshmerga forces to enter into Kobani to give support,” Cavusoglu said at a news conference, referring to the security forces of the largely autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. The Kurdish government there is known to be friendly to the Turkish government.

A peshmerga spokesman said he had not been ordered to move units to Syria.

“They have not given us any orders to move our units,” said the spokesman, Halgurd Hekmat. “But we are waiting, and we are ready.”

The Kurdish activists in Kobani said there was no sign of any peshmerga forces.

Still, it was unprecedented for Turkey to promise to give Kurds passage to fight in Syria. That, combined with the U.S. airdrops, reflected the importance assigned to protecting Kobani from the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group, which has rampaged across Iraq and Syria in recent months.

It also underscored the enormity of the challenge in battling militants who have been trying to seize Kobani since last month to spread their rule along the mountainous spine of the Syria-Turkey border, an area dominated by ethnic Kurds.

Ankara views Kurdish fighters in Syria as loyal to what Turkish officials regard as an extension of the group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. That group has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO.

The government is under pressure to take greater action against the IS militants — not only from the West but also from Kurds in Syria and inside Turkey who accuse Ankara of standing by while their people are slaughtered. Earlier this month across Turkey, there were widespread protests that threatened to derail promising talks to end the PKK insurgency.

Although a significant departure from previous positions, Turkey’s announcement to allow fighters to cross its territory is not a complete policy reversal, since it involves peshmerga fighters from Iraq and not those from the PKK.

It remains uncertain whether Ankara would allow heavily armed Iraqi Kurdish fighters to make the journey in large numbers. It is also unclear if many of those peshmerga troops would even do so, given that the IS militants still threaten their areas in Iraq.

Cavusoglu did not give details of where and how Turkey would allow the Kurdish fighters to cross into Syria.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf called Turkey a “close NATO ally and partner,” and said the U.S. has a “very close relationship” with Ankara. She said the Obama administration is still discussing ways Turkey can play a larger role in the coalition, and praised steps Ankara already has taken to stem foreign fighters and funding from moving to the militants across Turkey’s borders.

However, Harf also indicated the U.S. did not seek approval from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before dropping weapons and aid to Kurdish fighters. She said the Kurdish fighters and the PKK are not legally linked.

“It’s not about consent,” Harf said Monday. She said President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry separately notified Turkish leaders “our intent to do this and had discussions with them about why we believe this is an important thing to do in this fight against ISIL around Kobani.”

“It did become clear recently that the forces on the ground were running low on supplies necessary to continue this fight, that’s why we decided now to authorize this,” Harf said. “And our support will continue to help them repel ISIL,” she said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Kerry said it would be “irresponsible” and “morally very difficult” not to support the Kurds in their fight against IS.

“Let me say very respectfully to our allies the Turks that we understand fully the fundamentals of their opposition and ours to any kind of terrorist group, and particularly obviously the challenges they face with respect the PKK,” Kerry said.

“But we have undertaken a coalition effort to degrade and destroy ISIL, and ISIL is presenting itself in major numbers in this place called Kobani,” he told reporters in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

Iraqi Kurds provided the weapons and aid for the Kurdish fighters in Syria. But both sides relied on U.S. pilots to fly the supplies between the two nations and drop where they could be accessed by the Kurds in Syria.

Harf also said “it’s possible” that the weapons being given to the Syrian Kurds were initially U.S. munitions that were either sold or otherwise transferred to Iraqi Kurdish security forces from American authorities. She did not immediately know for sure if that was the case.

Barzan Iso, a journalist based in Kobani, said he saw the airdrop, which included anti-tank missiles, sniper rifles, large amounts of artillery shells and medicine.

The Americans dropped the bundles amid heavy wind, he said. Two bundles landed in IS-held areas, and Kurdish fighters were able to retrieve one, while the other was blown up by the U.S. from the air, Isso said.

The U.S. Central Command said the coalition conducted six airstrikes near Kobani in the past 24 hours, targeting IS fighting and mortar positions and a vehicle. It confirmed that one airstrike targeted a stray resupply bundle. U.S. cargo planes also dropped arms and supplies provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq, the Central Command said.

Idris Nassan, a senior Kurdish official from Kobani who is now in the Turkish town of Mursitpinar, confirmed the Kurdish fighters received the airdrop and asked for more weapons.

“We are not in need of fighters. We are able to defeat the terrorists of ISIS if we have weaponry — enough weaponry and enough ammunition,” he told The Associated Press.

The weapons drop for the Kurdish forces was a stunning diplomatic success. Syrian Kurdish officials have been lobbying Western governments for support.

They have argued that their fighters are the kind the West would want to support in Syria: secular, relatively moderate and well-disciplined. They have pointed to their opposition to the Islamic State group: most notably in August, when their forces fought to create a safe passage in northern Iraq to evacuate tens of thousands of Yazidis — a persecuted religious minority who fled an onslaught by the extremists.

“We (asked) the international community from the beginning of these clashes for help, for more effective weaponry and for more ammunition,” Nassan said. “This is the first step.”

Iso, the journalist in Kobani, said by telephone that he had not seen any peshmerga — he called out to a group of Kurdish fighters with him if they had seen any, and they could be heard answering “No!” over the line.

Echoing the views of many Kurds, who are deeply suspicious of Turkey, Iso said the foreign minister’s statements had “nothing to do with reality.”

The two top U.S. envoys to the global coalition, retired Marine Gen. John Allen and Ambassador Brett McGurk, will travel to Britain, France and across the Mideast in the next 10 days to meet with allies. There were no immediate plans for them to go to Turkey.

Turkey has not allowed the U.S. and its allies to use its airspace or air bases to strike inside Syria.

In recent days, many of the airstrikes have focused around Kobani, which IS militants have been trying to seize for a month. Turkey has given sanctuary to about 200,000 Syrians fleeing Kobani and dozens of nearby villages captured by the IS group.

___

Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Desmond Butler in Istanbul; Zeina Karam and Diaa Hadid in Beirut; Matthew Lee in Jakarta, Indonesia; Robert Burns, Lara Jakes and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; and Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.

TIME Turkey

Why Turkey Changed Course on Kobani

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani on Oct. 19, 2014.
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani on Oct. 19, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

The NATO ally announced on Monday that it would let Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross its border with Syria to join the fight against ISIS

Turkey’s announcement on Monday that it will help Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross its border to fight jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) appeared to signal a major shift in Ankara’s attitude towards the fight against ISIS. Until then, Turkey had refused to allow Iraqi Kurdish forces to travel across its border to join the fight taking place in the besieged town of Kobani, just a few kilometers to the south. It has now dipped its toe, albeit indirectly, into the battle – and analysts believe pressure from the United States is likely behind the move.

“Turkey has been resisting pressure to cooperate more closely with the U.S.-led coalition, but at the end of the day, the realities do assert themselves,” says Fadi Hakura, head of the Turkey project at London think-tank Chatham House. Turkey’s reluctance to assist Kurdish fighters in the battle in Kobani – which has been going on for over a month – is rooted in its fraught relationship with the country’s own Kurdish political movement. The Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., NATO and the European Union, waged a 30-year campaign against the Turkish state to try to secure political rights and self-determination for Kurds in Turkey. Ankara’s view is that the Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS across the border under the banner of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are little more than an extension of the PKK. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quoted on Sunday as saying “the PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organization.” Hakura says close links between the two groups help explain Ankara’s refusal to help Syrian Kurds push back ISIS advances, since Turkey fears the potential creation of a powerful Kurdish fighting force that would straddle the Turkish-Syrian border.

Though a peace process between Turkey and the PKK began to develop in 2013, it has come increasingly under threat in recent weeks. Hakura says one major reason for Turkey’s “abrupt reversal” to allow fighters into Kobani is that “the Turkish government does not want its peace negotiations with the PKK to falter due to the developments in Kobani.” But Aaron Stein, associate fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, says that Turkey’s announcement on Monday should not be seen as a change in policy at all, since Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated the apparent threat the PYD poses to the region. He said that like ISIS, the PYD “aim to have control over a certain part of Syria” and as long as it holds these ambitions, Turkey would not support them.

“This recent decision is more an outcome of Turkish isolation, rather than Turkish inclusion,” says Stein, who believes Turkey was “terrified” of international isolation and “left with no choice” by the actions of the U.S.-led coalition. Turkey had opposed U.S. arms transfers to Kurdish fighters in Kobani, but the U.S. went ahead on Sunday night and air-dropped weapons and ammunition to soldiers in the area. According to Stein, “the U.S. is now firmly driving this aspect of policy. Whether you agree with the policy or not, we’re seeing definitive outcomes” of the continued air strikes and the overnight air drops, which seem to have pushed ISIS onto the defensive. Hakura also highlighted the impact of mounting pressure on Turkey, saying that since Turkey is a member of NATO and the U.S. is its main source of arms, it could no longer try to block U.S. plans in Syria and Iraq. As the U.S. began to coordinate more closely with the Syrian PYD fighters on the ground, “Turkey felt a strong desire to intervene to balance the dynamics and not be isolated.”

The strategic impact of Turkey’s decision remains to be seen, since it is not yet clear how many Iraqi Kurdish fighters will end up crossing the border to help the fight in Kobani. In any case, officials say the ultimate outcome of the besieged town is unlikely to change the course of what will be a long, protracted war against ISIS, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stating on Oct. 12, “Kobani does not define the strategy of the coalition.” But as Hakura points out “the fall of Kobani could be seen as a psychological setback” for those who have been fighting ISIS in past weeks. And as the U.S.-led coalition has no doubt been hoping, Turkey’s new position may well make it easier to secure Kobani, a town which holds – at the very least – considerable symbolic value in the fight against ISIS.

Read next: Turkey Will Help Iraqi Kurds Join Fight Against ISIS in Syria

TIME isis

How to Financially Starve ISIS

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A fighter from the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) waves a flag in Raqqa, Syria on June 29, 2014. Reuters

Air strikes will help but to ruin the extremist organization the U.S.-led coalition will have to cut off ISIS's sources of funding

The U.S.-led air assault in Iraq and Syria on the extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria(ISIS) is just one front in the battle being waged against ISIS. The U.S. Treasury recently confirmed plans to try to bankrupt the militant group by targeting its oil businesses and imposing sanctions on those financing them. But how easy will it be to financially ruin a group now considered by analysts to be the best-funded terrorist organization in recent history?

“Like all organizations, money matters to ISIS,” says Fawaz Gerges, the Emirates chair in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies at the London School of Economics. “Napoleon once said ‘An army marches on its stomach’ and even ISIS needs to feed and arm its soldiers, to provide for their families. If you follow the trail of money and starve ISIS financially, you begin the process of degrading and ultimately paralyzing it.”

Yet following this trail of money is difficult. Experts speaking to TIME say hard figures are difficult to come by, partly because of a lack of independent researchers and journalists in the area. ISIS also deals mainly in cash and operates outside the legitimate channels that can be traced by the Treasury, says Valérie Marcel, a Middle East energy and resources expert at London-based think-tank Chatham House. As a result, estimates of ISIS’s daily revenue vary between $1 million and $3 million a day. Gerges says that ISIS has estimated funds of tens of millions of dollars, and that in the last few months the group has reportedly tried to limit its spending as much as possible to counter the coalition’s efforts to cut off its funding.

As ISIS has grown in size and taken control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, its sources of income have also shifted. Justin Dargin, a Middle East energy specialist based at the University of Oxford, says that “while funding from wealthy Gulf patrons assisted the group’s early rise, currently individual donations are not of major importance” since ISIS has developed more independent sources of income. David Butter, a Chatham House expert in the politics and economy of the Middle East, agrees, noting that ISIS benefits from being far less reliant on funds from abroad than other Islamist and Salafist jihadist groups, who made themselves overly dependent on the one-off nature of such fundraising. In fact, experts say one major difference between ISIS and other jihadist groups is ISIS’s more pragmatic outlook. Whereas al-Qaeda was more focused on setting up cells to finance anti-Western terrorist operations, ISIS has concentrated on expanding its area of control, taking hold of natural resources and commercial centers, as well as tens of thousands of tons of weapons and ammunition.

In June of this year, ISIS seized more territory in Northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. It declared itself the “Islamic State” and developed revenue streams more typically associated with a government than a jihadist group. Though it’s difficult to establish how well ISIS is running the areas under its control, Paul Rogers, a global security consultant to Oxford Research Group, says that information from social media suggests that “ISIS seem quite competent to run things in Syria” and most areas seem to be functioning reasonably well. Since ISIS has continued to provide services like water and electricity, Gerges says the group has been able to impose taxes on farmers, retail businesses and even fuel. He adds that we should not underestimate the importance of this “social income” in both Iraq and Syria, since ISIS “have been able to generate sources of income to run the provinces under their control and also to generate extra income to wage their battles.”

Yet while ISIS might attempt to act like a state, much of its money is brought in by criminal tactics, including extortion, theft and plundering. For instance, senior U.S. government official Brett McGurk told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July that even before ISIS took control of Mosul, he and other U.S. diplomatic and military officials who had visited the city shortly before it fell to ISIS had been concerned about Mosul “as it had become the primary financial hub” for ISIS, “generating nearly $12 million per month in revenues through extortion and smuggling rackets.” Hostage-taking has also played a part in filling ISIS coffers. According to an investigative report from The New York Times, kidnapping Europeans has earned al-Qaeda and its affiliates at least $125 million in ransom payments in the past five years alone. Although ISIS formally split from al-Qaeda in February, the group has continued the practice and both Gerges and Marcel have sources confirming that ISIS has received large sums of money from citizens of Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states and Syria in exchange for hostages. As well as Western hostages, the “kidnapping of locals is a big business”, says Gerges, and has generated tens of millions of dollars for ISIS and other militant groups like al-Nusra front, the branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria.

But the majority of ISIS’s revenue appears to come from the territory it controls, much of which is “very rich agriculturally”, says Rogers. For instance, the United Nations estimates that land in Iraq under ISIS control accounts for up to 40 percent of the country’s annual production of wheat. Crucially, the militant group also holds a number of oil fields in both Iraq and Syria and analysts speaking to TIME estimate that the daily revenue from ISIS oil production lies between $1 and $3 million a day. Though this is barely a fraction of the global oil trade, the income is very useful in funding ISIS’s soldiers, who number between 20,000 and 31,500 according to the CIA. As ISIS took hold of more territory in Iraq and Syria in June, it gained more opportunities to sell both crude oil and refined products through well-established smuggling networks. “There are a lot of grey market buyers of crude in the region and a large network of individuals that benefit financially. It’s harder to dismantle because – whether it’s in the KRG [Kurdish Regional Government], in Turkey or in Iran – border guards and municipal authorities have to be paid well enough and given incentives to crack down,” says Marcel.

If the U.S. and its allies continue to bomb ISIS’s oil facilities, however, the group will begin struggling to fund itself. The Paris-based International Energy Agency said in a report released Tuesday that the aerial campaign has brought ISIS oil production down to around 20,000 barrels per day, from a high of around 70,000 a couple of months ago. If oil installations continue to be hit, ISIS will not be able to use its own military vehicles that run on the diesel and gas produced by small, local refineries. Yet it is the civilian population – between 6 and 8 million people in ISIS-controlled territory – that will most acutely feel the effects of the air strikes as winter approaches. The local population relies heavily on diesel for heating, agricultural machinery, bakeries and generators. The U.K.-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has already reported that the air strikes have led to an increase in the price of diesel and petrol. Butter says that if the ISIS economy is “degraded” by the bombings, there is likely to be a nationwide fuel and electricity crisis, as well as agricultural shortages exacerbated by the lighter than normal rainfall in 2013. In addition, Marcel points out that ISIS “depends to a large extent on the willingness of the population to have them there. In the battle to win hearts and minds, you do have to provide heating fuel and petrol.”

But if the group is to lose this battle any time soon, the coalition will have to succeed in cutting all the strands of ISIS’s vast financial web. Until then, ISIS will likely remain a threat to the region and beyond.

TIME Syria

U.S. Aircraft Resupply Kurdish Fighters Battling ISIS in Kobani

TURKEY-SYRIA-CONFLICT-KURDS
Kurdish people watch jet-fighters fly over Kobani from the Turkish border in the southeastern village of Mursitpinar on October 19, 2014. Bulent Kilic — AFP/Getty Images

Kurdish troops on the ground in northern Syria appear to be gaining the upper hand against ISIS with the help of American air strikes

U.S. aircraft delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish forces in the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani who’ve been battling the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) for more than a month.

American C-130s made multiple airdrops over the embattled city on Sunday and met no resistance from ISIS forces on the ground, according to officials.

“These airdrops were conducted in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to degrade and defeat the terrorist group [ISIS] and the threat they pose to the region and the wider international community,” read a statement released by U.S. Central Command late Sunday.

During a conference call on Sunday night, a senior administration official confirmed that the White House had given the green light for the operation in order to provide the embattled Kurdish militia forces with the badly needed supplies.

“The President determined to take this action now,” the official told reporters.

To date, coalition aircraft have launched 135 air strikes targeting ISIS forces in Kobani. The aerial onslaught is believed to have helped reverse the battlefield momentum in favor of the Kurdish fighters holed up near the Turkish border.

Hundreds of ISIS fighters have been killed as a result of the air raids, thus allowing Kurdish forces to begin pushing the Sunni extremist group outside the city. However, scattered ISIS fighters are believed to be holding out in pockets of Kobani.

“[ISIS] is going to suffer significant losses for its focus on Kobani,” said the administration official.

The reinforcement of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as they’re known locally, by U.S. aircraft is likely to infuriate officials across the border in Turkey. Ankara has repeatedly refused to allow Kurdish reinforcements to enter Kobani because of the YPG’s ties to separatist rebels inside Turkey.

— With reporting by Zeke Miller / Washington

TIME Syria

Kobani Struggles Amid Medicine and Food Shortages

Turkish Kurds watch smoke rises over Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border
Turkish Kurds watch as smoke rises over the Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, October 18, 2014. Kai Pfaffenbach—Reuters

One local describes how some trapped residents have been forced to break into the houses of neighbors who have fled to take their food. He and others are eating whatever they had stored as well as that left behind by the tens of thousands of who fled

In some neighborhoods, the streets are littered with the bodies of militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), said Mohammed, a 42 year old Kurdish fighter, describing the aftermath of days of U.S. airstrikes in and around the besieged Syrian city of Kobani, just a few hundred yards from the border with Turkey. “Normally, if we have time, we try to bury them, but now, because of the new clashes, we cannot,” he said on Friday, speaking to reporters over the phone from the city center. “You can now smell the carcasses.”

A fighter for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia defending Kobani, went on to describe the increasingly harrowing conditions inside the city, which has been holding out against an ISIS onslaught for more than a month. “We lack drinking water, milk for infants, and medicine,” he said. “We had three hospitals in the city, but ISIS destroyed all of them. Now we have one mobile clinic, but all it has is antibiotics.” Yet Mohammed, who asked that his last name not be made public, remained upbeat. “If the airstrikes don’t stop,” he said, “we will have victory in ten days.”

The YPG has received a big boost from the U.S. airstrikes but continues to fight with its back to the wall, said Ismet Sheikh Hasan, the city’s defense chief. Except for a single, now temporarily closed, border crossing with Turkey, Kobani remained cut off from the outside world, he said, while ISIS fighters are able to receive reinforcements from their strongholds inside Syria.

“The strikes are very good, but they’re not enough,” Hasan said, “because ISIS is hiding in the houses and in the streets, and we need heavy weapons to go after them and defeat them.”

In recent days, he added, even the narrow lifeline connecting the city to Turkey had come under threat, making it difficult to evacuate wounded fighters and several hundred stranded civilians. From a hill south of Kobani, ISIS tanks and artillery guns were shelling downtown neighborhoods and the Mursitpinar border crossing. Snipers were targeting the area as well.“They’re trying to control the main gate to stop our injured from reaching Turkey,” he said.

“We’ve prepared for such days,” said Luqman Ahmad, a civilian speaking to reporters by phone from Kobani. He and others inside the city center were eating whatever they had stored, mostly canned foods, he said, as well as livestock left behind by the tens of thousands of locals who fled to Turkey over the past month. “We’ve had to break into the houses of neighbors who’ve left, and to take their food.”

Artillery fire echoed on the Turkish side of the border as he spoke. Two coalition fighter jets circled above Kobani.

As night descended on Kobani on Friday, Hasan, the defense chief, sounded a glum note. Thanks to the airstrikes, the YPG was holding its ground, he said, but remained unable to make progress. “The balance is shifting in ISIS’ favor,” he said.

Minutes after he spoke, heavy clashes broke out to the east of the Kobani. In Caykara, a small Turkish village less than a mile from the border, locals crowded the roof of a mosque, listening to the unrelenting cackle of gunfire and the thump of artillery shells. Red tracer rounds dashed from the city center toward ISIS positions on the outskirts. A single fighter jet buzzed overhead, obscured by the darkness and the thick clouds hovering above Kobani. Rain started to fall.

TIME conflict

Watchdog Group Says ISIS Has Warplanes

Ex-Iraqi army officials are reportedly training ISIS fighters to fly them

Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have acquired three “warplanes that can fly and maneuver,” a watchdog Syrian opposition group said in a new report.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said former Iraqi army officials who have joined ISIS are training militants to operate the planes at an airbase near the contested Syrian city of Aleppo. The report, which has not been verified, cites anonymous “reliable” sources. The U.S. military said it’s not aware of ISIS gaining air capability.

“We’re not aware of [ISIS] conducting any flight operations in Syria or elsewhere,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder told Reuters.

TIME world affairs

Syrian Women Know How To Defeat ISIS

Women have been deeply involved in distributing and monitoring humanitarian aid in communities across Syria

To the Islamic State, Syrian women are slaves. To much of the rest of the world, they are victims.

It’s time we expose their real identity: an untapped resource for creating lasting peace. Listening to and implementing the ideas of women still living in Syria is key to weakening ISIS and stabilizing the region at large because, in many ways, they have a better track record laying the foundations for peace and democracy than any other group.

Over the last two years, we’ve worked side-by-side with Syrian women leaders as they propose concrete steps to end the war. Most recently, we brought several women representing large civil society networks to Washington, D.C., where they cautioned against the current approach of the international community – and proposed a very different blueprint for the region’s future.

More arms and more bombs, they said, are not the answer.

They insisted that the only way to fight this extremist threat is to return to the negotiating table and hash out a peaceful political transition to heal the divisions ripping Syria apart.

“Oppression is the incubator of terrorism,” one woman told us as the group prepped for meetings with high-level officials in D.C. and New York. Her participation in peaceful protests during the early days of the revolution led to her two-month imprisonment in a four square meter room shared with 30 other women—yet she was adamant: “We cannot fight ISIS except through a political approach.”

That women who’ve been hunted and tortured for their nonviolent activism still say “no more bombs” is remarkable. That their solutions are forward-looking and inclusive is unsurprising; we’ve seen similar approaches from women in conflicts all over the world. In Colombia, Northern Ireland, Uganda, and dozens of other places, women have been catalysts for sustainable, inclusive peace.

During three-plus years of war, Syrian women have consistently led efforts to end the violence and mitigate suffering. They’ve worked under the direst circumstances: dodging sniper bullets, evading arrest, surviving without adequate food or medicine. They’ve retained hope and determination in ways that most of us would find impossible.

That’s precisely why we must listen to them.

So what do they recommend? To create stability (which is kryptonite to extremists), Syrian women say three things must happen.

First, humanitarian aid must get to the millions in grave need. Almost three million people are registered as refugees in neighboring countries and over six million are displaced inside Syria. That’s in a country with a pre-war population of just under 18 million. Approximately half of the remaining inhabitants live in extreme poverty.

In response to this disaster, the UN made an urgent appeal for $2.28 billion just to meet the critical requirements of the internally displaced. So far, Member States have committed only $864 million—a little over one-third of the total. Last month, the UN was forced to cut the delivery of food aid by 40 percent.

Violent extremism thrives in areas where social services have all but disappeared. A woman who serves on the local council of an opposition-held town told us that she fears more of her neighbors may become radicalized because there’s no work, no education, and no other opportunities.

Women have been deeply involved in distributing and monitoring humanitarian aid in communities across Syria. Typically perceived as less of a threat, they’re able to smuggle supplies through checkpoints without being searched. This affords them first-hand witness of the different needs of zones under government, opposition, Islamic State, or other control. They’ve seen, for instance, that food baskets can’t get into areas blockaded by the regime; in these circumstances, cash transfers are more effective. To reach the greatest number of people, relief agencies should coordinate with civil society and devise humanitarian strategies that reflect these differences.

Second, international actors must encourage local pockets of stability. Beyond funding, a key barrier to humanitarian access is the ongoing violence. Besieged areas are the hardest to reach and most in need.

Here too, women have a solution. Though missing from most news reports, a number of local ceasefire arrangements have proliferated throughout the country, often negotiated by civil society actors. In the Damascus suburbs, a women’s group brokered a ceasefire between regime and opposition forces. For 40 days before fighting resumed, they were able to get essential supplies into the city.

Syrian women are now calling on the UN to not only track these local arrangements, but assign international monitors to ensure parties stick to them. Beyond opening channels for the passage of humanitarian aid, this may also help the parties come closer to an agreement to cease hostilities on the national level. This will require accountability, as these negotiations are all too often used as a tool of political manipulation.

Which brings us to the third, and potentially most important, step: The parties must return to internationally-mediated negotiations and agree on a political solution to the conflict. The last round of talks in Geneva failed, it’s true. But this is still the best solution to the burgeoning civil war and the opportunistic extremism that has followed it. Only a unified Syria can beat back the ISIS threat.

Convincing both parties to come back to the table won’t be easy. But Syrian women have identified concrete ideas that could help unite disparate factions by encouraging them to cooperate on mutually beneficial activities. For instance, the regime and opposition could coordinate the safe passage of university students between government- and nongovernment-controlled areas to allow them to resume their studies. The women also call on parties to prioritize construction of temporary housing for those displaced by the conflict on both sides. These actions could help cultivate trust between the regime and opposition and encourage popular support on all sides for renewed negotiations.

As important is the construction of an inclusive peace process. One that engages women, but also others who have thus far been missing from the conversation: the Kurds, Druze, youth, independent civil society networks, tribal leaders, and, yes, more radical elements like Jabhat al-Nusra, who can otherwise spoil the talks from the outside. Without this, no agreement stands a chance.

These three priorities—humanitarian relief, support for local ceasefires, and resumption of negotiations—are not the result of idealistic or wishful thinking. This is not an abstract call by Syrian women to “give peace a chance.” It’s a plea for policy approaches that are grounded in the lived experiences and long-term goals of the vast majority of the Syrian people.

Regional and global stability depend on the international community getting this right. Luckily for us, Syrian women—and civil society more broadly—know exactly what it will take to rebuild their country and undermine the ambitions of the Islamic State. Will we listen?

Kristin Williams is Senior Writer and Program Officer at The Institute for Inclusive Security, where she calls attention to the most powerful, untapped resource for peace: women.

Michelle Barsa is Senior Manager for Policy at Inclusive Security Action, where she focuses on expanding the role for women in peace and security processes, particularly in Afghanistan and Syria.

This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Syria

ISIS Retreats From Besieged Syrian City

Fire is seen after an US airstrike on ISIS positions in Kobani, Syria, on Oct. 15, 2014.
Fire is seen after an US airstrike on ISIS positions in Kobani, Syria, on Oct. 15, 2014. Ahmet Ozturk—Xinhua/SIPA

But Anwar Muslim, the head of Kobani's local government, tells TIME more than a thousand civilians are still trapped in the city center

The Syrian city of Kobani, just across the border from Turkey, breathed easier Thursday as U.S. coalition airstrikes helped dislodge jihadist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) from several neighborhoods.

Speaking by phone from Kobani on Thursday, Anwar Muslim, the head of the local government, told TIME that the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish forces defending the enclave, were now in control of “65 to 70 percent” of the besieged city. In neighborhoods in the south and east, he said, ISIS fighters were in partial retreat. In the west, they remained about three miles away.

But he cautioned against premature optimism. ISIS had lost “many men,” he said, “but they keep sending car bombs, mortar shells, and yet more fighters into the area.”

He claimed there were “more than a thousand civilians” still trapped in the city center. With ISIS snipers and mortars targeting neighborhoods close to the border crossing with Turkey, “it’s too dangerous for the people to leave,” he said. “We are asking the U.S. and the U.N. to set up and operate a humanitarian corridor to Kobani.”

Turkish officials, however, insisted that only Kurdish and ISIS forces remained inside the city. “There are no civilians left in Kobani,” Bulent Arinc, the country’s deputy prime minister, told reporters on Wednesday. “All of them are in Turkey.”

The Kurdish forces were bolstered by heavy air assaults from U.S. jets. In a statement posted on its website, the U.S. Central Command said that American fighter jets had conducted 14 airstrikes around the city since Wednesday. The U.S. forces said they struck 19 ISIS buildings, two ISIS command posts, three ISIS fighting positions, three ISIS sniper positions, one ISIS staging location, and one ISIS heavy machine gun.

“We know we’ve killed several hundred of them,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said Wednesday, referring to the ISIS fighters massed near Kobani. He noted, however, that the city “may very well still fall.”

“They are bombing the right targets,” Muslim said of the U.S. coalition. “At the beginning, ISIS had plenty of tanks and trucks, but that is no longer the case.” He declined to confirm, however, whether YPG forces were providing the U.S. and coalition partners with coordinates of jihadist positions around the city. “We are cooperating, and our actions have been complementary,” said Mr. Muslim. “There is contact.”

The YPG is widely believed to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the U.S., the European Union, and Turkey all consider a terrorist group, making it difficult for the militia to open official channels with Washington.

With both sides exhausted by more than a month of clashes, desperation appears to be creeping in. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, Kurdish security forces have rounded up hundreds of people of fighting age in Kurdish strongholds east of Kobani over the past week, forcing them to join YPG ranks. The month-long siege has taken its toll on ISIS, too. The jihadists, said Muslim, have begun resorting to suicide attacks inside Kobani.

The role of U.S. and coalition forces in the battle for Kobani may now be more crucial than ever. Zuhal Ekmez, the co-mayor of Suruc, a Turkish town just a few miles from the Syrian border, said that it was only this week that the airstrikes had begun tilting the balance in the YPG’s favor. “Before, they weren’t effective,” she said. “They are now, but we need them to go on.”

On Thursday afternoon, following a morning of relative quiet broken only occasionally by the chatter of gunfire and the wail of a fighter jet, a series of loud explosions shook the air above Kobani. As columns of smoke grew from the ground, a small group of Syrian refugees began to gather in a field on the Turkish side of the border. Passing around a single pair of binoculars to better follow the fighting inside their hometown, they pointed to a hill to the east of Kobani, where ISIS fighters had earlier planted their black flag. The flag, they noted, was gone.

Read next: ISIS Retreating from Kobani, Says Kurdish Official

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