TIME Turkey

Boat Sinks Off Turkey, Killing 24 Migrants

Rescuers retrieve a boat that sank, killing 24 migrants, off the Black Sea village of Garipce near Istanbul on Nov. 3, 2014.
Osman Orsal—Reuters Rescuers retrieve a boat that sank, killing 24 migrants, off the Black Sea village of Garipce near Istanbul on Nov. 3, 2014.

Migrants may have been travelling from the Middle East to Romania

At least 24 people have died after a boat carrying migrants believed to be from Afghanistan and Syria sank Monday in the Bosphorus Strait.

The Turkish coast guard said 24 bodies have been recovered and seven people rescued from where the Strait meets the Black Sea. Rescue crews are searching for other passengers by air and sea.

This year hundreds of thousands of migrants have tried to reach the European Union, making dangerous journeys across sea and land. The BBC reports that the refugees may have been trying to reach Romania, a member state of the European Union.

[AP]

TIME Bizarre

The 32 Most Surprising Photos of the Month

From the return of Kim Jong Un to spooky Halloween traditions, TIME shares the most outrageous and intriguing images from October 2014

TIME Syria

Kurds Welcome Backup to End ISIS Siege of Syrian Border Town

Mideast Iraq
Bram Janssen—AP A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier reaches out his hand to supporters, at the Ibrahim Khalil border crossing, in the Northern Kurdish Region of Iraq, Oct. 29, 2014.

Turkey allows Kurdish troops to cross into Kobani

Kurdish fighters in the besieged Syrian town of Kobani welcomed the arrival of a vanguard of fighters from Syria and Iraq on Wednesday, despite fears that the reinforcements are too small to end the siege.

Around 50 troops from the Syrian Free Army crossed into Kobani from Turkey on Wednesday, to stiffen the town’s resistance to fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Also on Wednesday, a convoy dispatched by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq carrying supplies, weapons, and 70 peshmerga, or Kurdish fighters, crossed into Turkey and began making its way to Kobani by road. A separate group of 80 peshmerga arrived by plane in the Turkish town Sanliurfa, an hour’s drive from the Syrian border, before dawn.

The peshmerga will have their own command structure, according to KRG spokesman Safeen Dizayee, but they will coordinate with U.S. Syrian Kurdish forces. They will not be involved in direct combat, he added, but will instead provide “artillery backup” for the city’s defenders. “Targeting will be provided by forces operating on the ground.”

Anwar Muslim, the head of the local government of Kobani, said he was confident that the arrival of the troops from Iraq and Syria would help end the almost month-long siege. U.S. airstrikes in Kobani and ground attacks by the Kurdish militia defending the city had destroyed “about 70% of Daesh’s heavy artillery weapons,” he told TIME, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym. “The peshmerga will give us huge support and perhaps now we’ll finish the job in a very short time.”

But the arrival of a small contingent of soldiers is not guaranteed to stop ISIS from taking over the town. Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, cautioned against premature optimism. “As long as there’s no additional pressure on ISIS elsewhere, they will continue to reinforce their forces near Kobani,” he said. “Without a more comprehensive strategy to combat ISIS, this is not a permanent solution. Kobani may still fall.”

The U.S. said it carried out eight airstrikes near Kobani on Tuesday and Wednesday but it is limited by Turkey’s refusal to allow the U.S to carry out combat missions from NATO bases in Turkey.

Ulgen said that Turkey would not do more to fight ISIS unless the U.S. commits to eliminating the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. “A real game changer,” he said, “would be for the U.S. and Turkey to come to terms about the main elements of campaign against ISIS.”

For over a month, Ankara refused calls to relieve the outgunned Kurdish forces in Kobani, insisting that the militia was little more than the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey, the U.S. and the E.U. list as a terror group. “For Turkey, the PKK and ISIS are the same,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month.

On Oct. 20, after the U.S. parachuted weapons to the Kurds in Kobani, the Ankara government announced that it would finally allow Kurdish troops from Iraq to cross Turkey to aid fighters in Kobani.

“For Turkey, regardless of whether its hand was forced by the U.S., this was a smart move,” says Mr. Ulgen. The deployment will help Turkey deflect claims that it has been appeasing ISIS, he says, and change the balance of forces on the ground to its advantage.

“Erdogan and the government didn’t want to be seen as directly helping a PKK linked group,” he says. “With the peshmerga now on the ground, it will be easier to give a green light to further logistical aid to Kobani.”

TIME Syria

US Airdrop to Kurdish Fighters Seized by ISIS

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

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

Why Turkey Changed Course on Kobani

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

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 Turkey

Turkey Will Help Iraqi Kurds Join Fight Against ISIS in Syria

TURKEY-SYRIA-KURDS-CONFLICT
Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images Kurdish people watch the Syrian town of Kobane from the Turkish border in the southeastern village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on Oct. 19, 2014.

A shift in Ankara

Turkey said Monday that it will help Iraqi Kurdish fighters cross its border to fight militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) who have besieged a city in Syria.

“We are helping peshmerga forces cross into Kobani,” the BBC quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying in a news conference. He didn’t give any further details.

Turkey has come under pressure to increase its support for the international coalition fighting ISIS, and the announcement represents a significant shift from Ankara. Until now, Turkey has refused to allow Kurdish fighters to cross into Syria because of links between Syrian Kurds and Turkey’s own separatist rebels. The announcement came just hours after the U.S. made multiple airdrops of weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to Kurdish forces in Kobani, who now appear to be gaining the upper hand against ISIS.

[BBC]

TIME Syria

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

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

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
Kai Pfaffenbach—Reuters Turkish Kurds watch as smoke rises over the Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, October 18, 2014.

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 Turkey

Turkey Decides to Hit Kurdish Rebels Instead of ISIS

Kurdish people wave Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) flags while attending a funeral ceremony for YPG (People's Protection Units) fighters in the town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, on Oct. 14, 2014.
Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images Kurdish people wave Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) flags while attending a funeral ceremony for YPG (People's Protection Units) fighters in the town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, on Oct. 14, 2014.

Airstrikes target the Kurdistan Workers' Party and not the Islamist militants fighting for control of Kobani, a Kurdish city in Syria near the Turkish border

Turkish fighter jets pounded positions held by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the country’s southeast Monday, according to Turkish media reports, adding to the deadly fallout from the war raging in neighboring Syria and bringing a 2-year-long peace process to the verge of collapse.

The airstrikes by F-4 and F-16 jets took place after a military outpost near the Iraqi border came under PKK fire for three consecutive days, local news sources said. “In an immediate response, the terrorists were silenced through the military means available,” said a statement posted on the Turkish Armed Forces website.

The airstrikes were the first since a ceasefire took hold in March 2013, the result of peace talks between the Turkish government and the Kurdish rebels. The PKK and the Turkish army have waged war for thirty years over Kurdish demands for greater autonomy, at a cost of more than 30,000 lives.

Tensions between the two sides have simmered over the past few months as the peace process appeared to stall, but came to a head last week after Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) forces tightened their stranglehold over Kobani, a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria within sight of Turkish troops massed on the other side of the border.

Kurdish protesters, enraged by Turkey’s refusal to provide military assistance to the besieged city, clashed with police, nationalists, and Islamist radicals in several Turkish cities last week, leaving at least 30 dead.

In the wake of the violence, the PKK’s leadership announced that its militant forces, who partially withdrew from Turkey under the terms of the 2013 ceasefire, were now poised to return. “Because Turkey has continued to pursue its policies without any changes, we have sent back all our fighters that were pulled out of Turkey,” Cemil Bayik, a senior PKK commander, told a German news channel in an interview aired Friday. The group’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, warned earlier that the peace process would be as good as dead if Kobani was to fall to ISIS.

The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the outgunned PKK offshoot defending the city, has repeatedly asked the Ankara government to open the border with Kobani to Kurdish fighters from Turkey and Syria, as well as to heavy weapons needed to destroy the jihadists’ Humvees and tanks.

Turkish officials have allowed more than 180,000 refugees from Kobani to cross into Turkey, but insist on preventing volunteers from going in the other direction. “Turkey cannot actually give weapons [to] civilians and ask [them] to go back to fight with terrorist groups,” foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview Saturday. “Sending civilians to the war is a crime.”

Turkey has also refused to consider pleas to take armed action against ISIS in Syria. “Turkey will not embark on an adventure at the insistence of some countries unless the international community does what is necessary and introduces an integrated strategy,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday. Before ousting ISIS, he said, the U.S. and its allies ought to commit themselves to removing Bashar al Assad’s regime in Damascus.

Officials in Ankara denied reports that they had allowed the U.S. to use Turkish air bases, including Incirlik, a key installation within 100 miles of the Syrian border, to launch attacks against ISIS. “We are holding intense negotiations with our allies. But there are not any new developments about Incirlik,” Bulent Arinc, the deputy minister said Monday.

Turkey appears yet to decide which of its enemies, the Kurdish militants or the jihadists, might be the lesser of two evils. “For Turkey, the PKK and ISIS are the same,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week. “We need to deal with them jointly.”

But the airstrikes seem to give a more definitive answer. The bombardment of Kurdish rebels, says Cengiz Candar, a veteran columnist with Turkish newspaper Radikal, can be considered a “political statement” as the peace process begins to fall apart.

“To [PKK leader] Ocalan, it says that nothing is for certain when it comes to the future of the peace process, so keep on board, behave, and don’t raise the bar too high,” he says. “And to the U.S. and other coalition members, it says that the PKK is still a priority for us, and not ISIS, as much as you’d want it to be otherwise.”

TIME Syria

Kerry Says Kobani’s Fate Is Not Key to U.S. Strategy in Fighting ISIS

The Secretary of State calls the situation in Kobani a tragedy, but insists that the enclave does not “define” the American-led coalition’s battle plans

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said keeping Kobani out of ISIS’s hands was not the top priority for the coalition of nations bombarding the Sunni extremist group in Iraq and Syria.

He voiced concern over the potential fall of the besieged Kurdish enclave, also known as Ayn al-Arab, to extremist militants, but was quick to note that the city’s survival did not “define” the U.S.-led coalition’s strategy.

“Kobani is one community, and it’s a tragedy what is happening there,” Kerry told reporters during a press conference in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. “We have said from Day 1 it is going to take a period of time to bring the coalition thoroughly to the table to rebuild some of the morale and capacity of the Iraqi army and to begin to focus where we ought to be focusing first, which is in Iraq.”

Kerry’s admission comes as coalition forces steadily increase the number of air strikes targeting ISIS forces surrounding the conflict-torn city in northern Syria. If it falls under ISIS control, it will give the terrorist group a large strategic corridor running along the Turkish border.

U.S. Central Command confirmed launching three air strikes in Kobani on Sunday that “destroyed an [ISIS] fighting position and an [ISIS] staging area.” However, it appears the strikes have failed to reverse ISIS’s momentum.

Syrian Kurdish militia fighters, known locally as the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been battling thousands of heavily armed ISIS militants in and around Kobani for weeks. Despite exhibiting incredible tenacity, the YPG has steadily lost ground thanks to a lack of reinforcements and access to sophisticated weaponry.

Analysts have also expressed growing concern that the loss of Kobani to ISIS could reignite civil war in Turkey. Ankara continues to prevent thousands of Kurdish fighters and supplies from crossing the border into Syria — a move that sparked days of rioting across Turkey that claimed at least 33 lives.

Cemil Bayik, who helps lead the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), warned that the fall of Kobani would incite fresh insurrection in Turkey, during an interview with the New York Times published over the weekend.

“Negotiations cannot go on in an environment where they want to create a massacre in Kobani,” Bayik told the Times. “We cannot bargain for settlement on the blood of Kobani.”

The PKK, which backs the YPG, has kept a shaky cease-fire with Ankara since 2013, after three decades of bitter civil war.

Bayik went on to promise to “mobilize the guerrillas” if Turkish forces allowed a massacre to ensue after preventing Kurdish forces from entering the fight for the city. Human-rights groups and the U.N. have voiced similar concerns over an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.

If Kobani fell, up to “12,000 people, apart from the fighters, will be most likely massacred,” warned U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura on Friday.

On Sunday, ISIS boasted, in an article published by its official propaganda outlet, of taking Yezidi women as slaves during the group’s conquest of northern Iraq in August.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirmed the admission by ISIS. “The group has systematically separated young women and teenage girls from their families and has forced some of them to marry its fighters,” said HRW in a statement published on Sunday.

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