The Battle of Kobane

PHOTO: Turkish soldiers standby as Turkish Kurds gather nearby to express their solidarity with Kurdish fighters in Kobani, Syria, at the Turkey-Syria border near Suruc, Turkey, Sept. 29, 2014.PlayBurhan Ozbilici/AP Photo
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It was another surreal day on the hills overlooking the Syrian border, watching the battle for the city of Kobane, located inside Syria.

ISIS is tightening its grip here. Kobane is a Kurdish city and it is nearly surrounded. Tens of thousands of residents have fled across the border, and the Kurdish defenders left behind seem both outgunned and outmanned.

But they are tough. And this place is their home.

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This morning, ISIS fighters shelled the city. It was very strange and very sad to stand on a hill less than a mile away and watch the shells fall on the downtown streets and into the neighborhoods of the city. There is no targeting, no military objective here; ISIS is just raining fire on civilians.

This whole campaign -- now more than a month old -- has shown again how ruthless and efficient is the ISIS playbook for taking territory.

First, a lightning advance seizes roads, villages and key points and shapes the coming battle. Then, ISIS forces move forward more slowly and engage on the ground, probing the defenses, looking for opportunities to advance further. Next comes the bombardment and that is followed by the final assault -- and the slaughter.

PHOTO: Turkish soldiers standby as Turkish Kurds gather nearby to express their solidarity with Kurdish fighters in Kobani, Syria, at the Turkey-Syria border near Suruc, Turkey, Sept. 29, 2014.Burhan Ozbilici/AP Photo
Turkish soldiers standby as Turkish Kurds gather nearby to express their solidarity with Kurdish fighters in Kobani, Syria, at the Turkey-Syria border near Suruc, Turkey, Sept. 29, 2014.

In the past few days, the city's Kurdish defenders have finally gotten some help. The U.S. and its allies have carried out air strikes against ISIS -- apparently targeting ISIS positions and supply lines. In fact, we saw what seemed to be several air strikes to the west of the city today. Kobane's defenders say these strikes have not stopped the jihadist advance.

Perhaps that is because ISIS may be getting some help here, too, from Turkey.

Turkey has long been concerned about Kurdish separatists in its southeastern provinces and their allies across the border in Syria -- in Kobane. There were reports earlier this year of arms shipments from Turkey crossing the border into ISIS-controlled Syria. The Turkish government called these shipments "humanitarian aid" -- and slapped a court order banning any further press coverage of the issue.

The politics are murky. But the progress of the battle is clear.

A few miles west along the border, we watched the Kurdish defenders of Kobane try to hold a key approach to the city. As night fell, the ISIS fighters moved forward, trying to flank the Kurdish positions. The fighting grew fierce, as the crack-and-thump of tracer rounds, the thud of mortar fire and the increasingly desperate snapping and pinging of small-arms exchanges filled the narrow valley. The jihadist fighters just kept pushing ahead.

In the gathering darkness, we could hear the wind carry across the barren hills chorus after chorus of their ancient, piercing cry: "Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!"