Kurds Retake Kobane as 'Demoralised' ISIS Retreat in Face of Allied Airstrikes

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Female fighters of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) stand near the border between Syria and Iraq, close to the Iraqi town of Snoun December 22, 2014. Stringer/Reuters

Kurdish forces have fought off advancing ISIS fighters and retaken the strategic Syrian border town of Kobane, which became the setting of one of the most brutally contested armed battles against the jihadist group, according to data from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

"The Kurds have retaken 80% of Kobane due to the continual attrition of Islamic State," says Rami Abdurrahman, director of the SOHR, "especially during the last seven weeks after IS have failed to advance in the city."

"From the middle of November ISIS have tried to advance and they have been stopped. Before then, ISIS controlled about 60% of the city, now they have less than 20%," he adds.

"Since seven weeks ago ISIS have not been able to go forward even a road in Kobane and have been losing ground," Abdurrahman added.

According to the SOHR it was precisely the combination of allied airstrikes against ISIS and the arrival of Kurdish reinforcements in Kobane that shifted the tide of the battle and stopped what had appeared to be a decisive ISIS victory, which would have given them control of a stretch of the border with Turkey.

"Besides the heavy fighting by YPG [Kurdish militia], the U.S. and Arab allies' coalition airstrikes have helped Kurds to advance in the city, where the air raids have blocked Islamic State's advances, targeting them in coordination with the Kurdish fighters."

According to Abdurrahman the shift in fortune has weighed heavily on ISIS fighters, with many abandoning their positions, leaving the group with little permanent guard inside the town, instead being forced to rotate their fighters daily .

The town of Kobane, located on Syria's border with Turkey had been the spearhead of ISIS's western advance and has continued to be the setting of heavy fighting between islamist militants and local Kurdish opposition since September.

The geography of the town made for a dramatic battlefield as the UN secretary general's special envoy to Syria warned in October that 12,000 civilians inside the town faced being cut off, surrounded and "massacred" in a "humanitarian catastrophe" similar to Srebrenica, Vukovar or Rwanda.

Meanwhile Turkey was urged by the international community and the Kurdish diaspora to assist the Kurdish resistance against ISIS, prompting protests across Europe. The government refused to send in troops, but as the ISIS advance intensified, Turkey assembled forces on its border, overlooking the fighting. A former member of ISIS told Newsweek that the Turkish army was cooperating with the group, allowing them to pass through Turkey to attack Kurdish positions.

Insights into the resistance in Kobane between late October until November dispelled claims that the town had already been overrun by ISIS, as locals from young women to pensioners mounted an armed defence of the town. The exclusive photos below taken inside the town during the siege showed the extraordinary last stand, with fathers and daughters taking up arms together.

In Focus

Pictures: Inside the Siege of Kobane

A collection of photos from inside Kobane, the city on the Syrian-Turkish border under siege by ISIS by Kurdish photographer Veysi Altay
Launch Slideshow 21 PHOTOS

The resilience of the defence and the tactics employed by the Kurds prompted activists and media outlets to brand Kobane, the 'Kurdish Stalingrad', in reference to the opposition to the Nazi invasion inside the Soviet city of Stalingrad during WWII.

The Kobane resistance was eventually reinforced by fighters from other Kurdish territories, including Peshmerga fighters from Iraq when Turkey gave permission to cross the border. However ISIS social media channels began circulating a video declaring "the Battle of Kobane is over", insisting the town had fallen. On closer inspection the footage claiming to be taken in Kobane appeared increasingly like a mock up, suggesting ISIS's grip on the town was slipping.

The U.S. Central Command told the BBC there had been eight air strikes on Kobane on Sunday which had destroyed 11 ISIS fighting positions. Meanwhile fighting has continued further south from the Kurdish town, in the Syrian city of Deir Er-Dzor.