ISIS launching operations towards Kobane and Hasakah ?
By Patrick Bahzad
A couple of days have passed since Kurdish YPG militias achieved an important victory against ISIS in Syria, where they took the city of Tal Abyad, a large border-crossing into Turkey. With the support of US airstrikes, the combined forces of the YPG and a number of Syrian rebel groups also advanced South towards Raqqa, the capital of the "Caliphate", apparently managing to take control of Ain Issa, a strategic traffic junction between the road from Tal Abyad to Raqqa and the"Syrian Road" going all the way from Mosul to Aleppo. While these advances are quite significant as such, they will only have a lasting effect in the fight against ISIS if they can be consolidated and maintained.
The Islamic State however seems to have opted for its favoured method of defence, which is to avoid large scale engagements and instead redeploy and counter-attack in the enemy's hinterland. The success or failure of such moves will have a strong bearing on what is now a battle for control over the Turkish-Syrian border.
Up until a few weeks ago, ISIS was controlling a much larger part of the border area, including vital border-crossings that the organisation used as smuggling and resupply routes. The fall of Tal Abyad has dealt a severe blow to the Jihadis' stream of trucks carrying oil, cotton, grain and other goods over the Turkish border, as they now have to take a longer route to reach a border-crossing still under their control.
Kurdish Advance and Victories
In this context, the Kurdish YPG advances further South onto Ain Issa can clearly be seen as an operation aimed at cutting of the smuggling route used by ISIS - i.e. the famous M4 known as the "Syrian Road" - which provided ISIS with a major East to West traffic connection, all the way from North-Eastern Iraq to North-Western Syria. Several border crossings North of the M4 have been used over time to maintain a steady flow of goods getting back and forth over the Turkish border.
From that perspective, the recent Kurdish victories could potentially have serious consequences for the Islamic State. For one thing, these gains could enable the anti-ISIS coalition to seriously disrupt ISIS logistical and financial operations. The Kurdish expansion into areas along the Turkish border might also be used as a means to stop or reduce the arrival of new ISIS recruits, and serve as a launch-pad towards major offensive actions against the Caliphate's territory in Syria, especially its capital Raqqa, which is located just about 40 miles South of Ain Issa, the furthest point of YPG advance so far.