As Turkey and Kurdish officials argue over the fate of the besieged town of Kobane, the self-declared Islamic State is taking a new tack in its propaganda campaign: turning its hostages into "reporters" of the situation on the ground.
Hostage John Cantlie, a freelance British journalist kidnapped at the same time as the late James Foley, has appeared in a new video from IS, also known as ISIL, as if reporting on events in the town of Kobane, on the Syrian-Turkish border. For the past month, IS forces have fought for control of the Kurdish-run city.
Mr. Cantlie, who has appeared in several prior IS videos as a orange-jumpsuited hostage, this time "is filmed as if on a normal television report, describing events happening around him," notes The Telegraph.
He points to the Syrian-Turkish border behind him, and claims that contrary to recent reports claiming the Kurdish fighters defending the city are pushing back Isil, it is in fact in control of the south and east, and “mopping up” the rest of the resistance street-by-street. ...
He points to the lack of western journalists in the town, and says their reports on Kurdish successes are based on information from “Kurdish commanders and White House press secretaries, neither of whom have the slightest intention to tell the truth”.
The video suggests a change in tactics in the militant group's online use of its hostages, from one of ultimatums – the group has executed two British and two American hostages in prior videos – to a more traditional propaganda war, with Cantlie carrying the group's version of events.
US Gen. John Allen (ret.), who is coordinating the US-led response to IS in Syria and Iraq, warned yesterday that anti-IS forces need to confront the group's presence online as well as its actual military, reports France 24. Coalition partners, meeting in Kuwait on Monday, are increasingly concerned about the group's ability to radicalize Western fighters and encourage them to strike at targets outside the region.
"It is only when we contest ISIL's presence online, deny the legitimacy of the message it sends to vulnerable young people ... it is only then that ISIL will truly be defeated," General Allen said.
In the meantime, the defense of Kobane appears stalled by politicking between Kurds seeking to reinforce the town's defenders and the Turkish government, which wants to see a tougher coalition mandate against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as IS.
Western powers have been pressing Turkey to aid – or at least allow Kurdish forces to aid – the border town. But Ankara views the town's defenders, mostly from the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which controls most of Syria’s Kurdish-populated region, as terrorists. The PYD is closely allied with the PKK, a Marxist Kurdish group that is listed as a terrorist organization by both the US and Turkey.
In a BBC interview broadcast Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu rejected claims that his government was not doing enough for Kobane. But he insisted that a broader plan was needed in Syria, beyond defending Kobane.
"Saving Kobane is very important but we should not forget that Kobane is just a result of a much bigger, much more widespread crisis in Syria," said Mr Davutoglu, the former foreign minister who has been a key architect of Turkey's Syria policy and a bitter opponent of President Bashar al-Assad. ...
Kobane has come to symbolise the brutal march of IS and saving the town is now an immediate priority of the United States.
Mr Davutoglu lashed out against Turkey's critics, saying it "did not want to be part of the game for a few weeks or months just to satisfy American or European public opinion".
Turkey's efforts to turn the coalition against its enemies among the Kurds and in Syria have isolated it diplomatically, The Christian Science Monitor reported last week. Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London, told the Monitor that the PYD has received de facto recognition from major Western powers.
“The Turks are really in trouble,” he says. “Every major Western power involved in the fight against IS is now speaking to the PYD. They are trying to convince everyone that they’re a terrorist group who should be treated the same as IS, and no one’s listening.”
However, a foreign policy reversal for Ankara may yet augur good news for Turkey more broadly. The strengthened diplomatic position of the PYD may goad Ankara into more urgently pursuing a peace process currently underway with its own Kurdish guerrillas.
Turkey may finally be relenting on further military aid to Kobane's defenders, according to reports out of Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurdish news portal Rudaw reports that a first wave of reinforcements, some 150 members of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters, are en route to Kobane via Turkey to provide artillery support to the town's defenders. Turkey said last week that it would provide a corridor to Kobane for the peshmerga.