Syrian town fears massacre as Obama admits underestimating rise of ISIS

Posted at 10:24 AM, Sep 29, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-29 10:26:23-04

(CNN) – Dozens of bombings from U.S.-led warplanes haven’t stopped ISIS from advancing toward Turkey, leading one town in the path of its bloody march to fear a massacre.

If ISIS manages to take over the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, it would control a complete swath of land from its self-declared capital of Raqqa to the Turkish border more than 100 kilometers (more than 60 miles) away.

Despite airstrikes in the area, witnesses said the attacks are too few and too far back from the front lines to slow the ISIS momentum.

“We need help. We need weapons. We need more effective airstrikes,” Kobani official Idriss Nassan said. “If the situation stays like this, we will see a massacre. I can’t imagine what will happen if ISIS gets inside Kobani.”

Obama: We underestimated ISIS

In an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” President Barack Obama said the U.S. government “underestimated what had been taking place in Syria” during its civil war — allowing the country to become “ground zero for jihadists around the world.”

“Over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you have huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos,” Obama said.

Another shortcoming? Overestimating Iraq’s security forces, which were quickly overrun by ISIS when it took over Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul, Obama said.

In recent weeks, Obama has been trying to boost an international coalition to fight ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.

Despite the U.S. initially overestimating Iraq’s military, “This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with, to make sure that they are able to take care of their business,” Obama told “60 Minutes.”

“If we do our job right and the Iraqis fight, then over time our role can slow down and taper off.”

ISIS militant: Airstrikes don’t really hurt us

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Syrian ISIS fighter Abu Talha said the militant group had prepared for the U.S.-led airstrikes.

“We’ve been ready for this for some time,” Abu Talha said. “We know that our bases are known because they’re tracking us with radars and satellites, so we had backup locations.”


One man who recently defected from ISIS said part of the group’s strategy was to hide its resources in civilian areas.

“They almost entirely emptied out the headquarters,” the defector, Abu Omar, told CNN’s Arwa Damon after he fled to Turkey. “Some equipment they hid in civilian neighborhoods. Some they hid underground.”

Abu Omar also said ISIS relies heavily on foreign fighters, including Westerners.

“The French, they have so much control — they’re even more extreme than we are,” the defector said. “They come from France, but it’s as if they have been part of the Islamic State for years.”

The latest attacks

So far, the United States and allies have conducted at least 224 airstrikes in Iraq and 51 airstrikes in Syria.

Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined the United States in pummeling ISIS targets in Syria, U.S. Central Command said.

Those attacks took out armed vehicles and also hit four ISIS-controlled modular refineries and an ISIS command-and-control node north of the stronghold of Raqqa, the U.S. military said.

“Although we continue to assess the outcome of these attacks, initial indications are that they were successful,” U.S. Central Command said.

On the Iraq side of the border, fighter jets and drones conducted at least four airstrikes over the weekend: one near Baghdad that destroyed an ISIS safe house and three near Falluja that destroyed two ISIS checkpoints and a transport vehicle, the U.S. military said.

What Americans think

According to a new CNN/ORC International poll, 73% percent of Americans support the U.S.-led coalition of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria — and most believe ISIS poses some level of threat to the United States.

But a majority — 60% — also oppose sending ground troops in the fight.

Even though Obama has said he will not put combat troops in the region, the United States does have military advisers on the ground training and helping the Iraqi army strategically as it battles ISIS.