Thursday, October 23, 2014

ISIL falls into a trap in Kobane

Recently, pictures taken on the border between Turkey and Syria showed a curious sight: A line on Turkish tanks pointed toward a town where ISIL forces were attacking Kurdish defenders. The tanks were sitting there, watching in a row, while in the valley below, people were being killed.

The Turkish tanks were respecting a traditional convention that is rapidly becoming obsolete. They were stopping at an international border. I say it is becoming obsolete because so many wars are being fought without traditional borders. ISIL, the military force that the Turks were watching on that border, has been attacking places in Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Part of their success comes from their ability to attack across borders, then retreat to their strongholds in Syria.

The terrible situation in Syria is another reason why borders are obsolete. The UN protocols for war crimes and human rights crimes are predicated on a country's borders being inviolate. The UN Charter and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court both condemn wars of aggression, which are wars where one country attacks another without itself being threatened. This opposition to wars of aggression implies that sovereign nations should never be attacked by other nations without provocation.

The sole exception to this rule would seem to be whenever an attack receives the approval of the UN Security Council. The Security Council is a political body, however. It is likely that any decision to sanction an action taken by the Security Council will have opposition, regardless of how justified the action may be.

In this case, when Turkey lines its tanks up on the Syrian border, Turkey is presumably defending itself from attack while at the same time observing the UN prohibitions on aggressive war. Neither of these presumptions are likely to be true. The Turkish tanks, while motionless are actually preventing ISIL forces from retreating into Turkey along a long, somewhat porous border. The Turks are supporting the efforts of American and Arab jets, who have been relentlessly pounding ISIL positions with high explosives. So there is a battle going on here that violates the UN Charter, but one could argue it does not violate the natural laws that require the strong to protect the weak.

The residents of Kobane are not, strictly speaking, Syrians. They belong to a Kurdish minority and practice a form of Islam known as Shi'a. The people attacking them right now are Sunni Moslems, but so are the Turks who are protecting them. More than 100,000 refugees, many of them Kurds, have crossed the border into Turkey. So the tanks are protecting those refugees.

The tanks are on the high ground, solemn and still. The fighters of ISIL do not dare to attack them. Although the fighters in Iraq's army may be badly trained and poorly motivated, this is not true of the Turkish army. Young Turkish men must serve in the army for 6 to 12 months, which receives weapons from the US and other NATO countries. This service is seen as a patriotic duty by the Turks.

ISIL has a fighting force of approximately 35,000 men. Their propaganda claims they are an unbeatable force of highly motivated muslim fighters. Recent American tv shows have bolstered the claims of ISIL by attacking all Muslims as sympathizers with ISIL and its tactics. ISIL has seized several cities and gained control of western Iraq, but their force is still small and they have few allies in the region. Saudi Arabia has admitted giving aid to ISIL at one time, but official spokesmen have asserted that that the aid has been stopped.

It has been estimated that 500 ISIL fighters have been killed by these multi-national air attacks. An additional 1500 have likely been seriously wounded. Therefore, ISIL has lost 5% of its entire army in the attack on Kobane. This fact supports the idea that the anti-ISIL forces have been using Kobane as a killing ground, a place where ISIL fighters have been lured in with the prospect of an easy victory.

The dedication of ISIL fighters, who are advertised (by ISIL) as fierce jihadis, has also been brought into question by testimony from a captured ISIL member.  He has admitted fighting with ISIL, but says he was forced by threat of beheading to join the battle. He also says that ISIL drugs young men before sending them out as suicide bombers.

There may be some doubt as to the veracity of this young man's story, but there is no doubt that ISIL would use those tactics--and worse--to recruit new fighters.

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