SYRIA Q&A

IS group 'dreams of fighting the West on the ground’

AFP | A Kurdish fighter in the war-ravaged Syrian town of Kobane, January 2015.

Kurdish fighters said Monday they had regained control of Kobane, a Syrian city under a months-long siege by the Islamic State (IS) group. But French counter-terrorism expert Yves Trotignon says the victory changes little in the overall war.

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The Kurdish victory in Kobane came after a four-month-long siege and with a warning from the United States that the town had not been entirely recaptured.

The US Central Command indicated that Kurdish forces controlled 90 percent of the town on Monday. Nevertheless, losing Kobane remains the IS group’s most significant setback since it rose from the violent chaos in Syria in 2013.

Yves Trotignon, a former French intelligence officer, spoke to FRANCE 24 about the implications of the battle of Kobane for the West and IS group militants.

FRANCE 24: How important is retaking control of Kobane from the IS group?

Yves Trotignon: Symbolically it is a very important victory. For the West, the battle for Kobane could be what the Battle of Stalingrad was for Allied forces in World War II: a turning point. The US has focused its air strikes on Kobane because it is a symbolic city. There is a desire to brand it as the place where, for the first time, the IS group was forced to retreat.

It is above all a victory for the Kurdish fighters, even if other groups fought by their side, and even if the international coalition sent them weapons and US and German military advisers. But on the military and strategic level Kobane does not change anything. The war is not over, and the IS group is far from being defeated.

F24: So how strong does the IS group remain?

YT: The victory in Kobane has not changed the IS group’s strength. Its fighters are still positioned around the city, and it seems clear that at least a few of the jihadists remain inside it.

What can be said, regardless of Kobane, is that the IS group has not made any advances for a while now. As soon as their troops come together, form vehicle convoys, they are pummelled by coalition air strikes of the coalition. They are learning to adapt.

F24: So will air strikes continue driving them back?

YT: No. There is no hope of defeating the IS group with air strikes alone. This is why the US wants to rebuild the Iraqi army, which was on the verge of collapse.

The West and its allies will not reclaim the territory controlled by militants without a ground offensive. The problem is that nobody wants to put boots on the ground. Iran said it would deploy its soldiers if the IS group encroached on their border. Iran has the means to launch a ground offensive and has received Iraq’s approval to do so. But nobody wants to see Iranian troops back in Iraq, because then it will be complicated to make them go away.

There is no political will in the West to send in ground troops, and it is not simply over fears of casualties. The IS group dreams of fighting the West and its allies on the ground. It is a kind of trap being set by the IS group.

It’s probably not a good idea, because any coalition soldier captured by the IS group would automatically become a propaganda tool for the jihadists. Just look at what happened to the Jordanian fighter pilot. If an American soldier was ever captured he would be beheaded, and those images would be exploited to no end.

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