Airstrikes in Kobane aren't relieving the desperation among Kurdish refugees

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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. The besieged Syrian city of Kobane has not fallen yet.  Kobane, right next to the Turkish border, has been under assault by ISIS militants for 25 days. Kurdish fighters defending it have been pushed back into the

city center, and today clouds of black smoke hung over the area. That may be an ISIS tactic aimed at hampering US and coalition airstrikes. Reporter Marine Olivesi has spent the last few days watching the drama unfold from just across the border in Turkey. It’s dark now, so she’s a little further away from the border, now in the Turkish city of Urfa. Tell us, Marine, today what did you see?

 

Marine Olivesi: Well, today we saw a few very powerful airstrikes hitting Islamic State positions in the northwestern part of Kobane, which is actually close to the border gate between Turkey and Syria. According to some Kurdish refugees from Kobane who were with us watching the developments from the Turkish side of the border, some of these strikes were landing, it seemed to them, closer and closer to the center of Kobane, which would indicate that the jihadists which had been pushed back to the outskirts of town yesterday had been able to, again, push further in towards the city center. One other thing they don’t understand, those refugees from Kobane, it seems to them that every night when the coalition fighter jets leave the area, the jihadists are, again, on the move and on the offensive and by the next morning, they have advanced again. So one of them was asking me today “Why isn’t the coalition striking on a 24-hour basis?” Because what we’ve seen in the past three days is mostly daytime airstrikes.

 

Werman: I think most people know what an airstrike concussion sounds like, but let’s listen to this anyway, because it’s not the only sound you will hear. So, Marine Olivesi, paint the scene for us. I mean, people are applauding. What’s going on?

 

Olivesi: Yes, exactly. So, I was at that point with some of these Kurdish refugees from Kobane who, as I said, are gathering pretty much every day for hours on end just to watch what’s happening on the other side of the border. At every airstrike, the crowd would just  burst into applause and there’s clearly a sense that every single airstrike could make a difference. But what I noticed today though, unlike yesterday and the day before, is that there’s also a sense, just as in Washington, it seems that the airstrikes alone might not be enough.

 

Werman: Right, so mixed feelings among the Kurds about those airstrikes. What about the fact that the Turks have been basically blockading Kurdish volunteers and supplies from reaching the defenders of Kobane. What does the crowd think about that?

 

Olivesi: Well, that’s the major sticking point between the Kurds and the Turkish authorities at this point. That’s the reason for the anger that we’ve seen play out in the streets in several cities in Turkey over the past couple of days. Because the Kurds at the border say that it’s one thing if Turkey doesn’t want to intervene on the ground, it’s one thing that if they don’t want to send its own military to fight in Kobane, but at least what they want is to allow their own fighters to reach Kobane and help fight against the Islamic State militants.

 

Werman: It was mostly quiet in Kobane today. What do you think that means? Does it signify that maybe the city is safe from ISIS?

 

Olivesi: It’s really hard to tell, and I think both the journalists who were there and the bystanders ,the refugees everyday are trying to figure out “What are the advances of the jihadists and of the Kurdish fighters inside?” But it’s pretty hard to tell. There’s several sources though that have confirmed by the end of the day that the jihadists have control of about a third of Kobane. So, mostly on the outskirts. But again, there’s so much back and forth every day and every night, that it’s difficult to keep track. What we can say though is that the jihadists here have a lot of firepower. If we just judge it by the sound of the powerful detonations of their tanks -- and I just wanted to remind you that the Kurdish fighters inside the cities don’t have tanks, they mostly have light weapons and RPGs, so those detonations are coming from Islamic State militants.

 

Werman: The Turks have been allowing ambulances to bring wounded fighters through the border for medical treatment in Turkey. Have you been witnessing any of those scenes?

 

Olivesi: Today, I spent a couple of hours at the hospital and there was quite a heartbreaking scene going on there. We saw a 13-year-old walking out of the hospital with his gown still on and a walker. It turns out he’s been fighting inside Kobane and then he got injured yesterday, he was taken to the hospital in Turkey. But then today, for some reason he just decided that he had to go back, which, of course, was pretty foolish considering he still had bandages all over one of his legs, that he was, as I said, still walking thanks to that walker and that he clearly seemed in clear physical pain. But despite all of that, he walked out of the hospital, down the stairs and then down the street, and then he had a crowd of people just trying to talk him out of it. But the 13-year-old boy would just keep going. He was shouting that his father was still inside Kobane, that he had to go back and he would just have none of it and he continued walking. That scene continued for maybe a half an hour. His mother was standing by, she just had given up, she didn’t know what to tell him, she didn’t know how to convince him that he had to head back to the hospital. But it’s just a scene that I think captures the desperation and trauma that some of the Kurdish fighters that have been taken injured to Turkey have been undergoing -- and especially in that case, a very, very young fighter.

 

Werman: So 13-years-old you said?

 

Olivesi: Yes, 13-years-old.

 

Werman: That’s not just determination. That’s also trauma, as you say.

 

Olivesi: Yeah, exactly.

 

Werman: Reporter Marine Olivesi in southeastern Turkey. Thank you very much.

 

Olivesi: You’re welcome.