The Corner

More Airpower Might Have Saved Kobani for Now

The Islamic State has been pushed almost entirely out of the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani, local officials say, after it had seized a large chunk of the town and threatened to take it over entirely over the last week. Probably helping the reversal: The U.S. intensified its bombing campaign against the jihadist group, going from a few strikes a day to more than a dozen a day this week. Comparisons of our bombing rate to the rate of attacks in Afghanistan and Bosnia air campaigns don’t quite add up, and there are limits to what can be done without assets on the ground to identify targets. But our air campaign in Syria had been limited, and it seems like more strikes did help — perhaps as much psychologically as operationally.

The 37 strikes this week, for instance, destroyed 16 Islamic State–controlled buildings, according to the Pentagon. What enabled or caused the uptick in strikes? We’ve improved a secret system to coordinate and identify targets with the Kurds, the Pentagon says, and the growing numbers of Islamic State fighters had massed in or near the town presented more targets. The Department of Defense also says bad flying weather over Iraq allowed more airpower to be diverted to Syria, but it’s not clear why this makes sense: The U.S. has plenty of resources in the area to launch dozens of attacks every day in Syria and Iraq combined.

The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq also sent aid and weapons to Kobani over this past weekend, though it’s not clear if they’ve reached the town yet. The Iraqi Kurds say they would send troops to help Kobani, but it can’t do so logistically. The U.S. leaned on Turkey, which has troops just across the border, to help the Kurds beat back the Islamic State, but Turkey demurred, being loath to help Kurdish militants allied with its own troublesome Kurdish nationalists. 

UPDATE: A Kurdish friend of National Review suggests that the aid from U.S. airpower might have been as much about shock and awe as it was accurate strikes. Kurdish fighters, he points out, lack heavy weaponry, while the Islamic State has some fancy weaponry they actually know how to use. Heavy weaponry can thus help intimidate the Kurds into retreat, while air strikes can significantly boost their morale.

Patrick Brennan — Patrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

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