Massive destruction in Kobane after Kurds drive out ISIL
KOBANE - Agence France-Presse
AFP PhotoRubble strewn streets, gutted buildings: the ferocious battle for the Syrian border town of Kobane has wrought massive destruction, according to a team of AFP journalists who arrived on the scene Jan. 28.
Kurdish forces recaptured the town on the Turkish frontier from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Jan. 26 in a symbolic blow for the jihadists who have seized swathes of territory in their brutal onslaught across Syria and Iraq.
After more than four months of fighting, the streets, now patrolled by Kurdish militiamen with barely a civilian in sight, were a mass of rubble and gutted buildings, the journalists said.
Kurdish fighters armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles greeted the journalists with a hail of celebratory gunshots into the air and made the "V" for victory sign.
In one street, a mortar shell lay on the pockmarked tarmac. In another, a bright yellow car was left abandoned in the rubble, riddled with bullet holes, as a couple of men walked by to inspect the damage.
On Tuesday, Kurdish forces battled ISIL militants in villages around Kobane, warning that the fight against the jihadists was far from over.
The recapture of Kobane appeared however to be a major step in the campaign against the ISIL militants who had seemed poised to seize the town after they began their advance in September.
But analysts said air strikes by the US-led coalition had been key to the YPG's success, taking out some of the jihadists' heavier weaponry and hitting their supply routes.
A minister in the regional Kobane government said Tuesday that at least half of the town had been destroyed.
The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) had announced the "liberation" of Kobane on Monday, depriving the ISIL of a prize to add to its territory in Syria and Iraq.
"Our forces fulfilled the promise of victory," the militia said, but cautioned that fighting was not over yet.
The United States had said on Tuesday that Kurdish fighters were in control of about 90 percent of the town.
"ISIL is now, whether on order or whether they are breaking ranks, beginning to withdraw from the town," a senior State Department official told reporters.
But he warned that the militants, also known as ISIL, were "adaptive and resilient" and no-one was declaring "mission accomplished" yet.
Observers say ISIL lost nearly 1,200 fighters in the battle, of a total of 1,800 killed, despite outgunning YPG forces with sophisticated weaponry captured from Iraqi and Syrian military bases.
The combat also sparked a mass exodus of local residents, with some 200,000 fleeing across the border into Turkey.
Thousands of Kurds flocked to the Turkish border after the ISIL defeat, but Turkish security forces on Tuesday fired tear gas and water cannon to push back people approaching the barbed wire fence.
The border remained closed on Wednesday.
"We won't let any refugees cross until further notice," an official from Turkey's disaster management agency AFAD told AFP.
Turkish authorities were working on Wednesday to move hundreds of refugees from Kobane to a new camp in the southeastern border town of Suruc which is able to accommodate up to 35,000 people.
It is the biggest-ever refugee camp opened by Turkey, which has taken in 1.7 million Syrian refugees since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011 as a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister for the Kobane regional government, said Tuesday the authorities were urging people not to return to their homes yet.
"There is massive destruction. At least 50 percent of the city is destroyed," he said.
"We are asking them to wait and not come immediately because we don't have basic necessities for them. There is no food, no medicine. We don't have electricity or water."
The US official said that many foreign fighters -- including Australians, Belgians, Canadians and Chechens -- were among the dead jihadists, but declined to give exact figures other than to say "it was hugely, hugely significant."
With the eyes of the international media watching, the jihadists "wanted to raise the largest flag they ever made over Kobane," the official said.
"Kobane shows that you're not going to be part of something great'... so the whole narrative that ISIL is trying to put out, Kobane really puts a dent in it."