Syria Kurds Eye Recapture of Tal Abyad Following Kobane Victory

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Published Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Syrian Kurdish forces have set their sights on taking back from ISIS-occupied Tal Abyad, another strategic town on the border with Turkey, after recapturing Kobane, a monitor said Monday.

Tal Abyad, located about 65 kilometers east of Kobane, is an Arab and Kurd town in the Syrian province of Raqqa used by jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group to cross into Turkey.

ISIS seized Tal Abyad from Kurdish and rebel combatants who have been fighting to oust the regime of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad since 2011.

After four months of fierce fighting, the Kurds and rebels recaptured Kobane on January 26, and they have since also reclaimed a third of the villages in the area, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Since the retake of Kobane, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) have advanced steadily in the surrounding countryside, recapturing dozens of villages, some no larger than a few dozen homes. The monitor said on Friday that YPG have captured 101 Syrian villages so far.

"The next battle after Kobane is Tal Abyad," Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Britain-based monitoring group, said on Monday.

"The Kurds and a Raqqa revolutionary brigade arrived on Monday at the edge of Raqqa province."

An activist in Raqqa said the battle for villages around Tal Abyad had already begun, forcing people to flee across the border into Turkey.

"Tal Abyad is so important to IS that it has dug tunnels in the area and built fortifications on the town's outskirts," said the activist who identified himself as Nael Mustafa, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.

"The battle will take a long time, but it's a start."

On another front, further west in the province of Aleppo, "IS sent reinforcements to protect its strongholds of Minbej and Jarabulus which could also be a target for the Kurdish fighters," said Abdel Rahman.

A victory in Kobane was an important milestone in trying to change the narrative of the militants, who have attracted thousands of foreign fighters to their ranks, mostly disaffected youth drawn by the promise of adventure.

Analysts say the loss of Kobane is both a symbolic and strategic blow for ISIS, which set its sights on the small town in a bid to cement its control over a long stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border.

ISIS, which is a breakaway of al-Qaeda, has taken advantage of the Syrian war and instability in Iraq to seize chunks of territory in the two countries, where it has announced a self-proclaimed caliphate, killing a countless number of people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

A US-led coalition which includes Arab and other Western countries, has targeted its positions with airstrikes since September, yielding minor effects as it has failed to block the vital supply road linking militants in Raqqa to those in Iraq’s Mosul.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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