The Washington Post reports: The Islamic State was routed Monday from one of its key strongholds on Syria’s border with Turkey after its defenses crumbled and its fighters either defected or fled, raising new questions about the group’s vaunted military capabilities.
The fall of the town of Tal Abyad to a Kurdish-Syrian rebel force backed by U.S. airstrikes came after just two days of fighting during which the militants appeared to put up little resistance, focusing instead on escaping to their nearby self-styled capital of Raqqa or fleeing across the border to Turkey.
The force — led by Kurdish units of the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and including local battalions of the rebel Free Syrian Army — pulled the Islamic State flag down from the border crossing with Turkey on Monday and by nightfall said it was in control of the town center.
There were reports of scattered fighting on the western outskirts of Tal Abyad, but the advancing force had already severed the militants’ escape route, closing in on the town Sunday in a pincer movement from the east, south and west.
It appeared the Islamic State had suffered a stunning defeat, its first major reversal since it was driven out of the Iraqi city of Tikrit in April, and one that could prove far more consequential. Tal Abyad commands the major trade and smuggling routes on which the Islamic State has relied for its supplies from the outside world and, most significant, the flow of foreign fighters to Raqqa, the first major city it conquered. [Continue reading…]
Cale Salih writes: The capture of the strategic northern border town of Tal Abyad from Islamic State (IS) is the latest in a string of gains by the dominant Kurdish militia in Syria, the YPG, and its political branch, the PYD, across the north of the country since 2011.
Last October, their fighters grabbed world attention when they drove IS out of Kobane, another border town further east.
Now, the YPG, working with some Free Syrian Army-aligned rebels, and backed by US-led coalition air strikes, have taken control of Tal Abyad, with its ethnically mixed population, that had been held by IS since last year.
The YPG’s victory in Kobane was symbolically significant, but Tal Abyad offers far more strategic value.
Long-term control of Tal Abyad would further the YPG’s goal of connecting the non-contiguous zones of territory it holds across northern Syria, which it organises into three “cantons”: Afrin (north-west of Aleppo); Kobane (west of Tal Abyad); and al-Jazira (north-east Hasakeh province). [Continue reading…]