"If Kobani survives, it will have defied the odds. This embattled city on Syria's northern border with Turkey has been on the verge of falling for weeks in the face of a brutal siege by Islamic State militants. But the Syrian Kurds who call Kobani home continue to fight hard, and on Sunday the United States made airdrops of weapons and other supplies to bolster them. The town, once dismissed as inconsequential by American commanders, has become not only a focus of the American operation against the Islamic State, known as ISIS, but also a test of the administration’s strategy, which is based on airstrikes on ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and reliance on local ground forces to defeat the militants. A major problem is that the local ground forces are either unorganized, politically divided or, as in the case of the Kobani Kurds, in danger of being outgunned.
A setback in Kobani would show the fragility of the American plan and hand the Islamic State an important victory. Given Kobani’s location next to Turkey, the town’s fall would put the Islamic State in a position to cross the border and directly threaten a NATO ally, a move that could force the alliance to come to Turkey’s defense.
The big missing piece in the American operation is Turkey, whose reluctance to assist Kobani’s Kurds highlights the enduring weaknesses in America’s strategy. The decision to resupply the Kurds was a desperation move; the Kurds were at risk and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has refused to help despite repeated entreaties from Washington.
Only on Monday, after the American airdrop, did Turkey say it would allow Iraqi Kurdish forces, the pesh merga, to cross Turkey into Kobani. So far, however, no reinforcements of forces have reached Kobani by way of Turkey and Mr. Erdogan made it clear on Thursday that he is prepared to let only 200 pesh merga travel through his country — hardly enough when the Islamic State reportedly has about 1,000 militants in the area.
Turkey has been a troublesome NATO ally in the best of times. Matters have been made worse by its insistence that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, is a bigger threat than the Islamic State and by its complicated relationships with various Kurdish groups. Turkey has long enabled the Islamic State, whose original objective was to overthrow the Assad regime, by permitting militants, weapons and money to cross its border into Syria.
Now that the United States is leading the fight against the Islamic State, Turkey says it will work with the Americans. Yet it balks at helping Kurdish fighters in Kobani because it fears this would also strengthen the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (or P.K.K.) inside Turkey. The P.K.K. has been fighting a bitter, separatist war against the Turkish government for three decades, though recently the two sides have engaged in peace talks. It is hard to see what Mr. Erdogan gains by angering the Americans or by angering the Kurds in Iraq, the one Kurdish group with which Turkey has had good relations. Its refusal to assist also jeopardizes the nascent peace talks with the P.K.K.
There were many unknowns when President Obama began a premature and ill-advised mission into Syria. The failure to secure the full cooperation of an important ally leaves the success of the fight against the Islamic State increasingly open to question."
"A version of this editorial appears in print on October 24, 2014, on page A26 of the New York edition."...
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