Best to err doing too much, not too little

UN envoy Stefano de Mistura appeals for help for Kobane:

The Turks are saying the right thing: there should be a comprehensive, coalition-backed effort. But they are doing the wrong thing by withholding military assistance. They are not even allowing reinforcements, supplies and ammunition to reach the Kurdish fighters. Turkish tanks sit idle just across the border, outside the town.

The differences go beyond Kobane. It is, as Ankara asserts, a mistake for the coalition not to target regime forces in Syria, which continue to bombard civilian populations. But allowing ISIS forces to decimate the Kurdish town is an odd way to object to inadequate action against Bashar al Assad.

Coalition warfare is not pretty. The members often differ in objectives, strategy and tactics. They may even compete for turf. But what is happening right now in Syria is uglier than usual. A NATO ally is refusing to up the ante against ISIS when it can readily do so with few or no losses. Ankara is also failing to come to the aid of people closely related to an important minority community inside Turkey. That isn’t going to help settle issues with Turkey’s own Kurdish insurgents.

America too often loses its wars away from the battlefield. General Allen, the new American envoy for the fight against ISIS, has been in Turkey for two days trying to sort out the situation. Apparently to no avail. That seems extraordinary to me. Either President Erdogan or President Obama needs to bend. Both would be my preference: the Turks at least to allow resupply, the Americans to at least begin to target regime forces that attack civilians.

At least in public, the Obama administration is framing the Kobane situation as a public relations problem. So it is, but it is also more. Failure to save Kobane will leave a long stretch of the Syrian side of the border with Turkey in ISIS hands. It would be surprising if the jihadists didn’t take advantage of that not only to resupply themselves but also to infiltrate Turkey.

Even if Kobane is not militarily strategic, defeating the ISIS effort there could deprive it of manpower and blunt its momentum, which is strong not only in northern Turkey but also in Iraq’s Anbar province, where ISIS forces are expanding their areas of control.

The fight against ISIS, which is proving a capable enemy, can’t be won quickly. But it can be lost in these early stages, when Syrian and Iraqi resistance to ISIS is still weak, poorly trained and inadequately armed. The air attacks can also inadvertently help Bashar al Assad. President Obama should err on the side of doing too much, not too little.

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