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The Islamic State's (ISIS) Stalingrad-Ponyri at Kobani (Kobane)

Updated on October 28, 2014

One does not need to know military history about battles in WW2 to know some objectives act as a whirlpool that neither the attacker nor defender can get out of. For instance, in late 1942, the German 6th Army was ordered to seize Stalingrad in 1942. It was an epic historic battle made important because Hitler demanded it be taken (even though, his generals were not in favor of doing so. It was too far out and the fear of being encircled ran high). Tens of thousands were killed in the battle for terrain not worth a dog's life. The battle raged for months and ended in a stalemate, neither side controlled all of it. But, it became a symbol to each side. Then, as feared, the German 6th Army was encircled and captured in a horrific defeat that started the doom of the Germany's advance into Russia from 1941-43. Even after this blow, in 1943, during the Kursk offensive, where thousands of tanks fought one another, Hitler demanded the small town of Ponyri be taken at all costs. The battle for this town caused such carnage and slaughter amounting to 10,000 deaths and hundreds of tanks strewn in the surrounding area. Like Stalingrad, it became a whirlpool of quicksand that sucked both sides armed forces into battle that none could break away from. And, while German forces did manage to advance around the town, the town itself became a symbol to both sides and was contested for days until the losses were not worth the price.

Today, Kobani, Syria, on the Turkish border, is the Islamic State's Stalingrad or Ponyri. It is not a vital to any side but a symbol for the Kurdish of defiance (as Stalingrad was to the Russians) and dominance by ISIS. The battle for the town that was 120,000 people or so, is a vacuum sucking in more Kurds and more ISIS members to battle. Up until a few weeks ago, it seemed that the town was going to fall to ISIS (much like Stalingrad in the early days). But ISIS did not have the manpower at that time and American airstrikes put a delay on their offensive. So far, the battle has produced about 800 combat deaths total. ISIS and the Kurds are tossing more men and weapons into the battle but the American airpower (now that it is more persistent and better targeted) has tipped the scales in favor of the Kurds. But the Kurds are walking a thin line, for without the airpower, Kobani would have fallen already. The Kurds are the ISIS equal. They are just as relentless about winning the battle, their pride is at stake. ISIS relies on videos showing beheadings as a fear tactic. They recently claimed to have beheaded the fame woman fighter, Rehana, who the Kurds state has killed 100 ISIS soldiers. Each American bomb used there costs about $30,000, so, pilots want to be spot on with targeting and the Kurds are enabling this.

The Kurds have about 1500 men and women holding Kobani, while ISIS began their assault on the town in mid-September with between 4,000-8,000 men and 30-50 tanks supported by artillery. They have captured chlorine canisters and have used it on occasion, lastly, they now have Chinese man-held surface to air missiles capable of shooting down more primitive aircraft lacking ECM.

The battle for the city proper began in the first week of October, but by Sept. 21, they were within a few miles of it. The question is just how bad does ISIS want it? Will they continue to pour men and material into the quagmire? Or, look for more easy targets? Besides the status of winning Kobani, just why is it so important to ISIS? Turkey is not going to allow ISIS volunteers to enter there. There is no real value in the town. Maybe ISIS should save face and go after something more epic like the International Baghdad Airport, cut-off Baghdad and just terrorize it, or the Mosul Dam.


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