After 134 days of resistance, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Kobane have finally beaten the assault by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that was launched on September 15. Many analysts, journalists, ISIL itself, and western officials initially predicted a Kurdish defeat in Kobane.
But despite investing a huge amount of human and financial resources, ISIL was not able to beat the Kurds of Syria and to rename their town Ayn al-Islam (Spring of Islam). Instead, Kobane became a graveyard for ISIL fighters, who started to call the town Ayn al-Shuhada, the “Spring of Martyrdom”, where at least 1,000 of its fighters were killed.
ISIL attacked the Kurds in the town of Kobane in mid-September after Kurdish and Arab rebels formed a joint council that would threaten the self-declared caliphate of ISIL in al-Raqqa. According to an ISIL video from September, Kobane “became a haven for every enemy of the khilafa”.
US officials initially thought in October that the town would fall into ISIL hands, despite the air strikes, if there were no ground troops. Moreover, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Kobane was no strategic objective. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said the town would fall.
The US was initially reluctant to help the Kurds, fearing opposition from their NATO-ally Turkey. Turkey heavily opposed any western support to the Kurdish rebels in Kobane, for their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a 30-year insurgency for more Kurdish rights in Turkey. Turkey was against any victory of the PKK-linked YPG fighters in Kobane. For Turkey, the YPG and the PKK were still “terrorists”, although in western eyes the Kurds were now fighting the “terrorists”.
But eventually, Turkey was forced to allow support to the besieged Kobane. Turkey accepted the entry of 150 Iraqi Kurdish troops from outside Syria to reinforce the Syrian Kurds.
The US even increased their airstrikes in Kobane, and eventually supplied them with weapons despite opposition from Turkey.
On October 27, 2014, ISIL released a video from Kobane with British hostage John Cantlie predicting the defeat of the coalition against ISIL.
“But they know and the mujahideen [ISIL fighters] also know that even with all their airpower and all their proxy troops on the ground, even this is not enough to defeat the Islamic State here in Kobane and elsewhere,” he said.
Moreover, Cantlie suggested that ISIL already attained victory in Kobane.
“Contrary to what the western media would have you believe, it is not an all-out battle here now. It is nearly over [in Kobane].”
But the defeat hurts their credentials of an everlasting victory, and with the recent losses in Iraq, they have lost the battlefield initiative and reached their limits of expansion. Most likely, ISIL will look now for other weak spots in Syria in order to uphold their myth of expansion.
Although the battle might seem insignificant to some, the battle has become a symbol of victory for Obama’s coalition that wants to defeat ISIL. The Kurds were able to destroy ISIL’s self-propagandised myth that it continues to expand its caliphate despite heavy opposition. ISIL’s magazine, Dabiq, tried to compare their caliphate’s victories to those of the Islamic Prophet Muhammed who prevailed and triumphed against all odds.
In September, in another video, ISIL ridiculed the Kurdish fighters.
“They fought with a secularist ideology for the sake of land for a secular state. Strong fighters they were not. Their very foundation was weak; they only stood to fall.”
But it seems that ISIL and the US have underestimated the resilience of Kurdish fighters. Even in their last statement, the US Central Command praised the “courageous fighters” for their efforts and fortitude, without mentioning that they are Kurds and part of the YPG.
However, this does not mean the battle is over. The biggest challenge for the anti-ISIL coalition will be to defeat ISIL in their capital of al-Raqqa in Syria, and in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq.
But due to the fact that the Kurdish territories border both al-Raqqa and Mosul, it might be wise to recognise the Kurdish resilience in the face of ISIL.
Wladimir van Wilgenburg is an analyst of Kurdish politics for the Jamestown Foundation. He is currently based in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.