After 134 days of fierce fighting, Kurdish forces managed to take control of Kobane city centre. The news about the liberation of the city circulated all over social media, especially on Twitter, on Monday. The official announcement of the city’s liberation was made on Tuesday, with a ceremony attended by both military and civilian officials.
The date chosen for the official announcement is not a coincidence as it is the first anniversary of the “Kobane Canton Administration” an autonomous system declared by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces last year.
At the official ceremony, Mahmud Berxwedan, the top commander of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) delivered a speech saying their victory is the beginning of the end for ISIL worldwide.
“ISIL thugs should know that just as the houses of Kobane became a graveyard for them, our villages will also be a graveyard for them. We will continue to resist until not one square metre of our land is under occupation.”
Graveyard for ISIL
Acknowledging the achievement against ISIL as a joint effort, Berxwedan thanked the US-led coalition for the air support which experts agree has played a determining factor in the current situation.
US Central Command, on the other hand issued a cautious statement on Monday after the reports of the liberation plagued the media.
ISIL thugs should know that just as the houses of Kobane became a graveyard for them, our villages will also be a graveyard for them. We will continue to resist until not one square metre of our land is under occupation.
“US Central Command confirms that anti-ISIL forces now control approximately 90 percent of the city of Kobane. US Central Command congratulates these courageous fighters and thanks them for their efforts.”
While acknowledging the achievement of Kurdish forces, and denying ISIL from reaching one of their strategic objectives, CENTCOM emphasised that the fight against ISIL is far from over.
Indeed the fight in Kobane is far from being over, too. There are 350 villages that are mostly under ISIL control, and the towns around Kobane such as Tal Abyad, Jarablus, and Sarrin are all under ISIL control.
Anwar Moslem, head of the Kobane Canton, told me that the ultimate liberation of Kobane region will be a lengthy process which requires the continuation of coalition air strikes.
“In addition to the fight of the YPG on the ground, we need US-led coalition to continue intensified air strikes against ISIL so that the entire Kobane region can be cleared. YPG has already started this process, and three villages were recently liberated,” he said.
One point that has puzzled many is the 90 percent figure mentioned in Monday’s CENTCOM statement while Kurds claim complete liberation. Pentagon Spokesman Rear Admiral Kirby, on Tuesday, gave some indication as to what may be the reason behind the cautious statement.
“Central Command assesses that the vast, vast majority of Kobane is now being held by anti-ISIL forces. And that a very small percentage, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10, I think, is still being contested by ISIL.”
According to sources inside Kobane, CENTOM’s information is accurate but outdated. The chief editor of the local Welati newspaper, Zara Misto, confirmed that as of January 25 there were some houses that remained to be cleared of fighters in the eastern neighbourhood of Kaniya Kurdan.
“YPG had already started its clearing operations in the eastern side of the city when the news of the liberation reached mainstream media. I know Kobane like the inside of my palm, and I am absolutely certain that the city centre is completely liberated.”
Gelo Isa, a senior official of the Kurdish Democratic Party (PDKS) in Kobane, also confirmed to Al Jazeera that there are no ISIL militants remaining in the city, and Kobane was fully under YPG control.
“The remaining ISIL thugs in the eastern neighbourhood of Kaniya Kurdan were killed and some fled leaving their weapons behind. Kobane is fully under Kurdish control.”
Isa believes Washington will update its position on the liberation of Kobane, once the accurate information on the ground reaches them.
“Americans have played an important role in the liberation of Kobane city, and we truly appreciate it. They just want to be on the safe side by speaking with a cautious tone. I am confident they will soon be sure that ISIL is really defeated inside Kobane.”
Moslem said that while YPG, alongside the coalition and the Peshmergas, will start the liberation of villages; their focus will be on reconstruction efforts.
“Our focus right now is to start rebuilding efforts as many people are anxious to return to their homes. As the canton administration, we have formed a special reconstruction committee to oversee these efforts.”
Moslem says that they will need the help of the international community to rebuild the city
“Unfortunately about 70 percentage of our city is destroyed, and we will need the help of everybody to rebuild our city better than before. Kobane is not only ours any more; it is the city of the entire world, it is the symbol of their hope as people around the globe stood with us against ISIL’s terror.”
Mutlu Civiroglu is a Washington, DC based Kurdish affairs analyst focusing on Syria and Turkey. You can follow him on Twitter: @mutludc