Speaking to WHYY Radio Times, Carnegie’s Frederic Wehrey said that the Islamic State controls a lot of territory in Iraq and Syria because of a combination of their own proficiency and the disarray of their opponents. This group has been in operation in different permutations for quite a while, he continued, and has built up a cadre of expertise. They benefit from massive defections of former Iraqi army officers and have captured advances weaponry, armored vehicles, and artillery. But more importantly, they’ve tapped into the grievances of the population where they’ve come in, specifically with the Sunnis in Western Iraq, Wehrey argued.

Kobani is a town of incredible significance for the Syrian and Turkish Kurds, he said, but looking at its strategic significance to U.S. strategy, it appears secondary. A lot of U.S. efforts are being poured into defeating and degrading ISIS in Iraq. “The fall of Kobani would have significant political affects for what’s happening inside Turkey, with Turkey’s problems with its own Kurdish population, with the PKK,” Wehrey contended. The principle concern among the Arab states that have joined the coalition against the Islamic State is that attacking it will basically create a vacuum that will benefit the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

This interview originally aired on WHYY Radio Times.