Written by Andrew Arnett
All photos by Andrew Arnett
GAZIANTEP— It has become obligatory for the conflict reporter to visit the now infamous hill overlooking the besieged Syrian town of Kobani, from the Turkish side of the border.
On December 10, I made my pilgrimage up towards that fateful perch. But to even get that far, you need permission form Turkish military officials.
Security has tightened since ISIS attacks on Kobani from the Turkish side were reported on November 27. Now, only the military and members of the press are allowed up there.
It is quite remarkable that the ISIS siege of the small town of Kobani is going into its third month, with minimal gains for either side.
Since Monday, December 8, U.S. forces have conducted 20 airstrikes centered in Kobani, as well as other ISIS strongholds, according to the Combined Joint Task Force for the coalition overseeing the operation.
I had a conversation about Kobani with Ismail, theTurkish official in charge of granting press accreditation to foreign journalists from the Turkish city of Suruc. He goes to the hill overlooking Kobani almost on a daily basis, and he was kind enough to share his observations with me.
ARNETT: What do these press credentials allow us to do?
ISMAIL: There is a hill overlooking Kobani. The hill is fenced, and protected by Turkish tanks. When you zoom in with a camera, you can see inside Kobani. It is, so-called, “safe.” But, even though it’s protected by Turkish tanks, Turkish forces, you’re under danger. Why?
ARNETT: Because of missiles? RPG’S?
ISMAIL: Exactly. Because missiles sometimes fall on the Turkish side. I was there a few day’s ago and while I was there one of the missiles fell on the Turkish side, approximately 500 meters from us.
ARNETT: That’s very close.
ISMAIL: Yes. You won’t be safe. That’s why you will have to sign this form tomorrow.
ARNETT: OK. I will do that. I understand.
ISMAIL: We have accredited about 400 hundred journalists so far, in one month.
ARNETT: That many? Well, it’s been a very big news story.
ISMAIL: Yes, but we don’t see that many journalists at the protected area. That means they’ve probably crossed the border, or go somewhere else.
ARNETT: Who, the journalists?
ARNETT: I saw AP went into Kobani.
ISMAIL: AP stays on location permanently. They are always there. There were some Italian journalists. We were staying at the same hotel in Sanliurfa, and I asked them “I haven’t seen you in the protected area. Where have you been so far?”
At first they said they had been to Duhok, Iraq. Later on, I gained their trust and they confessed they had been inside Kobani.
ARNETT: They went into Kobani? See, that’s crazy.
ISMAIL: They said that the Kurdish side is much stronger than is thought to be. That was their impression.
ARNETT: Is that right. Well, anyway I’m just interested in staying on the Turkish side, and getting pictures from there. Are the US still dropping bombs?
ISAMIL: Yeah. You can see it with your own eyes, without a zoom camera. Usually at 3:00 pm.
ARNETT: They bomb at 3?
ISMAIL: Not exactly at 3, but usually in the afternoon they bomb. I go there in the afternoon, generally, and I’ve experienced that bombing, from the coalition forces.
ARNETT: Is it loud?
ISMAIL: We can’t see the plane. First, we see smoke, rising into the sky, and then a moment later, you hear the sound. Boom.
Sometimes when I open this window, I can hear the war.
ARNETT: You can hear it from here, in Suruc?
ARNETT: I’m amazed that they’re still fighting there. I mean, it started in September.
ISMAIL: Last evening their was intense fighting. It was around 4:00 pm. I heard a huge exploding sound. I called my friends and asked “What’s the situation?”
They said a plane just dropped bombs. And later on, a cross fight went on and one of the close followers of these updates said a report indicated 25 Daesh fighters had been killed.
ARNETT: Twenty-five died last night?
ISMAIL: From last evening on.
ARNETT: From last evening until now, 25 Daesh fighters have been killed in Kobani. Were any Kurds killed?
ISMAIL: We don’t know. One of the Kurdish commanders has indicated that since the past two months, around 1400 Daesh fighters have been killed in the area.
And in return about 500 Kurdish fighters have been killed.
ARNETT: They’re very good fighters, the Kurds.
ISMAIL: A couple of weeks ago, 150 Peshmerga gathered here, to join the fight in Kobani, and the ones that were already in Kobani returned. They stayed here in Suruc for the night. In total, there were 310 Peshmerga forces in town.
ARNETT: When do you think this fighting will be over?
ISMAIL: You live in America, President Obama said it may take two years.
ARNETT: Two years, yes, but Kobani is a small town.
ISMAIL: It is a proxy war.
ARNETT: A proxy war? You mean for show?
ISMAIL: Yes. Yesterday, we zoomed the camera into the homes. They were all ruined. That city needs to be reconstructed.
ARNETT: I can’t imagine anything is left.
ISMAIL: So why fight for it? What’s the point?
ARNETT: A proxy war. For show.
ARNETT: Are there journalists on the hill now?
ISAMIL: Yes, there’s always someone there. Local TV, AP, Kurdish News Agency, and a few more are always there.
ARNETT: Well, it’s an exciting but scary time. Thank you for your help.
ISMAIL: It’s a pleasure.