By Noah Rayman and Mark Thompson
October 9, 2014

A Border-Town Battle Shows How ISIS Is Evading the U.S.

A U.S.-led game of whack-a-mole has been under way across much of Syria and Iraq since the end of September–and so far the moles are winning. The most prominent evidence was visible all too clearly from nearby Turkey: the town of Kobani, just inside Syria, appeared to be falling to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) despite a stepped-up U.S. air campaign. Local Kurds equipped with small arms fought up to 9,000 jihadists outfitted with tanks and rockets. By Oct. 6, ISIS’s black flags flew above an eastern neighborhood. Kurdish officials warned that ISIS militants would kill thousands if they prevailed.

The fight for Kobani will test a U.S. strategy that at President Obama’s insistence has been limited to air strikes, depending on uncertain local allies on the ground to do the actual fighting. U.S. officials are angry that Turkey, a NATO ally, has refused to do more to avert a slaughter, largely because of its own bloody history with the Kurds. A delegation from Washington is heading to Ankara to urge Turkey to fully join the battle against ISIS.

The second piece of the U.S. strategy involves training as many as 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels per year to fight ISIS on the ground. But that’s a long-term gambit with no guarantee of success, in part because many of the rebels are more interested in fighting their three-year-old civil war against Syrian strongman Bashar Assad than in combatting ISIS.

ISIS has frustrated air strikes by abandoning key outposts–which would be easier to hit–and breaking into smaller units. The terrorists are also moving into civilian areas they know the coalition won’t bomb–especially without intelligence from on-the-ground scouts. Obama has refused to dispatch such spotters as part of his ban on U.S. ground troops in the conflict.

ISIS’s success helps explain why, on Oct. 5, the U.S. began deploying AH-64 Apache helicopters against the militants. The low-and-slow gunship is better than a jet bomber for attacking moving targets. But helicopters are more vulnerable to ground fire than jets. ISIS recently shot down a pair of Iraqi choppers, killing all four pilots aboard. For a President who wants to defeat ISIS without ground forces, the options are dwindling.

KENYA

‘I chose not to put the sovereignty of more than 40 million Kenyans on trial.’

UHURU KENYATTA, President of Kenya, announcing in a televised address to Parliament on Oct. 6 that he would temporarily step down to attend a hearing at the International Criminal Court in the Hague; Kenyatta, who reiterated his innocence, faces charges of crimes against humanity for inciting mass violence in the wake of Kenya’s 2007 elections

DATA

WHICH COUNTRIES ARE BEST FOR THE ELDERLY?

Rights group HelpAge International analyzed factors such as pension income and life expectancy to determine quality of life in 96 countries. A sampling of the rankings:

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1 Norway

8 U.S.

48 China

76 Venezuela

96 Afghanistan

Wrong Turn

FRANCE A wrecked car sits among the trees outside the city of Montpellier in southern France on Oct. 7. Record-setting downpours caused heavy flooding and forced thousands of people to leave their homes, though no fatalities were reported. The top-tier professional soccer team in Montpellier canceled its 40th-anniversary party and may have to relocate home games after its stadium was partly submerged.

THE EXPLAINER

Why Nobody Wants to Host the 2022 Winter Olympics

Oslo withdrew its bid on Oct. 1, making it the fourth city in recent months–after Stockholm; Lviv, Ukraine; and Krakow, Poland–to have second thoughts about hosting the Games. Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, are the only remaining contenders.

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Huge costs

Last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi set Russia back $51 billion, exceptional even by Olympic standards. Vancouver, for example, spent $6.8 billion in 2010.

Limited payoff

London poured $14 billion into its 2012 Summer Olympics, but it remains unclear how much it wound up benefiting the city economically in the long run–if at all.

Popular backlash

Some cities are wary of citizen reactions after protests shook Brazil last year in part over the government’s lavish spending to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Shady partner

The International Olympic Committee, which works with the host to put on the Games, has been plagued by allegations of corruption and a lack of transparency.

FRANCE

$1.3 BILLION

The size of the financial lifeline Walt Disney Co. is providing Euro Disney, which runs Disneyland Paris. The resort has struggled to stay afloat amid Europe’s economic troubles

Trending In

DIPLOMACY

North and South Korea agreed to hold another round of peace talks by early November after Hwang Pyong So, below, North Korea’s presumptive No. 2 (behind leader Kim Jong Un), made an unexpected visit to South Korea.

POLITICS

Pro-business candidate Aécio Neves, who finished a surprise second in Brazil’s presidential elections, is aiming to unseat incumbent Dilma Rousseff in the runoff on Oct. 26.

PRANKS

Yoda, Chewbacca and seven Darth Vaders are among names submitted to run in Ukraine’s Oct. 26 parliamentary election. They’re with the Internet Party, a group known for its theatrics and evangelization of technology.

Write to Noah Rayman at noah.rayman@time.com.

This appears in the October 20, 2014 issue of TIME.

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