The mornings start off quietly, but by lunchtime a crescendo builds of furious small-arms fire and airstrikes only to subside.
Then the battle resumes in early evening as the sun begins to fall – the nights are full of fury, explosions and intense gunfire.
This week Islamic State militants tried to bomb their way through Kurdish defenses by using suicide bombers. There have been nearly a dozen efforts.
In low-lying Turkish villages and hills along a 15-kilometer stretch of the border facing Kobani, refugees from the town and local Kurds have been watching the raging battle unfold with a mixture of feelings.
They cheer when an airstrike sends black plumes of smoke into the sky and crane to see where the ordnance struck. They seesaw between hope and despair, expressing one moment confidence the town won’t fall and then conceding they don’t know how the outgunned and outnumbered defenders can hold out.”
My Daily Beast piece yesterday on President Erdogan’s remarkable rant against T.E. Lawrence and the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Turkish leader appears oblivious to the fact that Lawrence did all he could to sabotage the Anglo-French deal and kill it at birth.
According to The Hill newspaper, the White House says its war on ISIS is succeeding: hate to see what failing would look like.
Let’s do a quick rundown: ISIS is advancing in Iraq’s Anbar province, they are close to taking Baghdad airport or at least are in range to bomb it; they are launching suicide bombing runs on the capital; for all the favorable Western press the Pesh (and Iraqis) have made no serious advances since the Mosul Dam; the Iraqi army (which we spent a fortune on) remains in disarray; Kobani is holding on by dint of an extraordinary stand by YPG fighters; the Turkish-Kurdish peace process is on the brink of collapse; Assad is taking advantage; the Syrian rebels are demoralized and ignored; the Syrians feel they are being sacrificed, which they are. Did I leave anything out?
What is happening at Heathrow airport – from the airlines to the UK Border Agency? A 15-year-old girl, Yusra Hussien, apparently accompanied by a 17-year-old flies off from Heathrow to Istanbul (not entirely clear whether they went on a direct flight) and no one questions them and checks with their parents first? Here is a link to an ITV report about the case. But this is the second time we know of where a youngster flew off from Heathrow to join ISIS without an eyebrow being raised at the airport.
The other case concerns Ibrahim Kamara, a 19-year-old from Brighton. He traveled on his 15-year-old brother’s passport and not a question raised. One way to get people to sit up at Heathrow would be to sack some of the top Border Agency officials at the airport and to fine the airlines involved colossal amounts – or if there is no law on the books to allow that to happen to pass one.
SURUÇ, Turkey—He gazes at the photograph of his daughter Evan on his cellphone as he offers to let me look. She is 18 years old with long dark wavy hair. It isn’t a snapshot but a more formally posed picture. The girl has lively eyes, a pleasant smile. It was taken shortly before she left a note for her parents telling them she was crossing the border into Syria to join the Kurdish defense militia, the YPG. That was six months ago and last week she contacted him and explained she was fighting the militants of the Islamic State in the besieged town of Kobani.
My latest piece for the Daily Beast can be read here.
American and Western officials are scrambling to understand the mindsets of the Westerners joining the jihadist Islamic State. In an article today for the Daily Beast I explore the challenges they are facing.
“Identifying who already has gone to join ISIS, who might go, and why is an urgent priority, and the FBI’s psychological analysts at Quantico have been enlisted in the effort to chart the pattern of radicalization and to try to get into the heads of these young men and women.”
There is still much not understood and decades of de-radicalization programs supply only a few answers. A former senior bureau profiler, Mary Ellen O’Toole, talked me through some of the problems when putting Western jihadists on the couch, saying it is as hard as pinpointing potential serial killers in the general population.
“You can look at second or third-generation immigrant men and say they are more vulnerable but one variable doesn’t make a mass murderer,” she told me. Real-world profilers have to be cautious and avoid falling back on facile ethnic, racial or religious “profiling.”
But she had no doubts that the British jihadists involved in the killings of American reporters James Foley and Steve Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines are psychopaths.
TRIPOLI, Lebanon — He is a revolutionary man, this 46-year-old Sunni, Salafist sheik and father of six with the graying beard, twinkling dark eyes, immaculately ironed thawb and manicured fingernails. He endorses the jihadist-led uprising against the Shia-dominated regime in Iraq and he warns the marginalization of Sunni Muslims will lead to an insurrection in Lebanon, too. “The way they are dealing with us they are pushing us to it,” he says.
She is there on the street every morning early and stays there all day until dusk, when the traffic along this street in downtown Beirut falls off. She collects little from Lebanese commuters and the only people who stop and talk with her are the old taxi drivers lounging at the end of the road, who are waiting sadly for fares.
My VOA analysis on what faces Petro Poroshenko can be found here.
The three biggest challenges, I think, are: seeing off the separatist insurgency in the east and repairing shattered relations with Moscow (obviously); delivering quickly on reforms or face the wrath of the Maidan; and he will need to out-maneuver an old parliament that will block change, possibly encouraged by Yulia Tymoshenko to do so as she hovers ready to pounce, if Poroshenko crashes.
Now off home to the US for a few days rest before refocusing on the Middle East…..
“Pro-Russian separatists in the embattled east of Ukraine got their way today, marring a presidential election that went smoothly across the rest of the country and was being endorsed by poll observers as the cleanest in the 23 years since Ukraine broke from the Soviet Union.” Read my full Daily Beast dispatch here.
“Exit polls tonight will give the first indication whether front-runner Poroshenko will have secured the necessary 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a June run-off. He has been widening his lead, according to recent opinion polls, over second-placed contender former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. But he may be denied an outright victory because of the crowded field, though some pollsters think he may have pulled off an absolute victory”