At this moment, as I write this for Fox News Opinion, the Syrian border town of Kobani sits on the precipice of falling to ISIS. All this while the Turks watch the action from across the nearby hills and the U.S. runs sporadic airstrikes that are not likely to save the day for the Kurdish defenders or the hapless citizens in the city. They are essentially on their own.
The Turks are clearly within range to change the course of the battle, but they won’t. With the U.S. only committed to periodic airstrikes and adamant about not putting "boots on the ground," the Turks have no real reason to be more intimately involved.
The fact is that ISIS doesn’t present a direct challenge to them. They know ISIS would be foolish to cross the border and engage a stable nation which has a standing, credible army which could meet them head on. Instead, as the Turks know, ISIS will be content to continue their rampage across Iraq and Syria where they are engaged openly, freely, and decisively.
From a practical perspective, while ISIS may not be a threat to Turkey, the Kurds are. And while Turkey may not be overly anxious to have ISIS lurking on its border, it’s much less anxious to have a restive Kurdish population within the country start clamoring for an independent nation comprised of Turkish, Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi Kurds.
Many Turkish Kurds have crossed the border already to join the Syrian Kurds in the fight against ISIS. And just on Wednesday alone, 19 Kurds died in riots across Turkey, protesting the lack of action on the part of their government to support the Kurdish fighters in Kobani. Even Iranian Kurds are protesting, calling for Iran's Quds force to join in the fight for Kobani. For the Turks and others in the region, Kobani is much more than simply a matter of another city in Syria falling to ISIS.
In fact, the pending loss of Kobani to ISIS is significant on many levels.
Tactically it demonstrates again ISIS’s ability to engage in protracted battle on the ground and win, even when U.S. airstrikes are involved. The ISIS defeat at the Mosul Dam was a minor set back in the grander scheme of things. It wasn’t a populated town. It was a massive structure, and targeting ISIS for attack from the air and routing them was straightforward.
Strategically, Kobani’s capture provides a territorial link across a broad span of land ranging from Allepo on the west to the outskirts of Baghdad off to the south east. Moreover, it claims a span of land abreast of the Turkish border. Pretty impressive.
Most importantly perhaps is the psychological victory inherent in Kobani’s capture. On that level it provides ISIS a victory played out in the international media, empowering it and hundreds if not thousands of would-be jihadis around the globe.
What better recruiting mechanism than showing possible adherents the ability to stand in the face of world powers, even the U.S., and claim a victory. At this rate it won’t be their last.
Despite the unwavering dedication of the U.S. servicemen and women who have been engaged against ISIS in and around Kobani, the clear fact is that America’s leadership has not only failed the brave defenders of Kobani but it has also shown America’s weakness once more.
We are not in this to win. “Relentless” was a hollow word when President Obama used it to describe how the U.S. would pursue ISIS.
None of that is lost on the world stage.
Bill Cowan is a retired Marine, Fox News military analyst, and founding member of the Intelligence Support Activity. He has been to Iraq 13 times since U.S. forces withdrew in 2012.