London Review of Books

Why the Islamic State Ain't Going Down Easy

On 16 June, Kurdish militiamen, with the support of US airstrikes, captured the town of Tal Abyad in northern Syria, a major crossing point on the Syrian-Turkish border. Its fall is damaging to Islamic State: it cuts the road linking the caliphate’s unofficial Syrian capital at Raqqa, sixty miles to the south, to Turkey and the outside world. Down this road have come thousands of foreign volunteers, many of whom became suicide bombers. Now the movement is all the other way: some 23,000 Arab and Turkmen refugees have fled into Turkey to escape the advancing Kurds. Some passed children over tangles of barbed wire before following through a hole cut in the border fence. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, accused Western powers of using airstrikes to support Syrian Kurdish ‘terrorists’. Towards the end Islamic State seems only to have had some 150 fighters in Tal Abyad. It didn’t send reinforcements because it knew the fall of the town, surrounded by Kurds on three sides, was inevitable.

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