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Joint Chiefs Fought `Two-Front Battle’ to Get Aid to Kobani

The US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in conjunction with General Lloyd Austin, head of the US Central Command, had to fight a two-front political battle to get Presidential approval for the ongoing air drops of supplies into the Syrian Kurdish fighters battling against the Islamic State over control of Kobani in northern Syria near the Turkish and Iraqi borders.
The first battle was inside the Obama Administration itself, where a number of key presidential aides, including National Security Advisor Dr. Susan Rice; Derek Chollet, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; and Attorney General Eric Holder all opposed providing arms to the Kurdish fighters in Kobani on the grounds that they were linked to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a group on the US State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). Rice and company argued for days that the Kurdish Union Party (PYD), whose fighters were defending Kobani against the Islamic State onslaught and were about to run out of weapons, were too closely affiliated to the PKK to be supported.
Ultimately, the Pentagon planners won out and a complex set of agreements were reached between the Obama Administration, the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, and the Turkish government to permit limited special forces from the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga to cross through Turkish territory to back up the PYD fighters. The US ultimately decided to provide emergency supplies, including weapons, to the PYD fighters in Kobani through nighttime airdrops run out of Kuwait. To bypass the restrictions on arming the PYD pushed by Rice, Chollet and others, the arms were provided to the US by the Kurdish Regional Government.
The convoluted behind-the-scenes political battle, which delayed the delivery of the weapons and added fighters by several crucial days, angered the JCS and Gen. Austin, who have been operating under the understanding that the number one military priority is the defeat of the Islamic State.
Ultimately, the Joint Chiefs and the “Realists” inside the Obama Administration, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry were able to win the political fight by convincing the “humanitarian interventionists” like Rice, Chollet and UN Ambassador Samantha Power that the fall of Kobani could be “Obama’s Rwanda”—a reference to the mid-1990s genocide in Central Africa—because IS fighters were sure to carry out a massacre of all of the surviving Kurds in Kobani were they to take the town. The “Realists” also convinced President Obama’s closest political advisor Valerie Jarrett that the President’s legacy was on the line in Kobani and an IS victory would be a remembered as a serious foreign policy failure by the president.
In addition to the frustration at the opposition inside the Obama Administration, the real anger among top American military commanders is directed at the Erdogan-Davutoglu government in Turkey, which has clearly been siding with the Islamic State in the battle for Kobani. 24 hours before a crucial war council meeting of military commanders from all of the coalition countries at the Pentagon last week, Turkish fighter planes bombed PKK targets inside Turkey but near the Syrian border, in what was seen as a clear message to Washington about where Ankara really stood.
That action by Erdogan even got President Obama furious at his former close friend. Washington, now more or less united behind the plan to save Kobani, took action against Ankara.
Turkey had been lobbying quietly for months to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council for the next two years—despite the fact that it had been on the Council just two years ago. According to sources at the UN General Assembly, just prior to the crucial vote, Turkey had lined up sufficient support to win one of the two spots up for grabs between Turkey, New Zealand and Spain.
Washington and a number of key European allies, who were also increasingly frustrated at Turkey’s obstruction of the anti-IS effort, went to work to defeat Turkey’s quest for the Security Council seat. Washington enlisted the aid of Fetulleh Gulen, the head of the Turkish Islamist movement who had gone through a serious falling-out with Erdogan and the AKP ruling party. When Presidents Obama and Erdogan met on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Wales recently, Erdogan had requested Gulen’s extradition back to Turkey from his residence in the US.
Gulen, whose movement has private schools all over Africa, joined in the lobbying effort at the UN and convinced a number of African states to vote “no.” Ultimately, Turkey lost the seat, with New Zealand getting the most General Assembly votes and Spain coming in second by a wide margin over Turkey.

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