Kurds are celebrating after flushing Islamic State militants out of the town of Kobani, but victory is not yet certain in their campaign to cement hard-won autonomy in northern Syria.
Hundreds of US-led coalition air strikes have devastated the town, which is adrift in an Islamic State-controlled sea. Objections to autonomy from neighbouring Turkey and the United States could also make it hard for them to sustain their gains.
The retaking by People’s Protection Units (TPG) last week of predominantly Kurdish Koran after a four-month siege by Islamic State was a major defeat for the Sunni fundamentalist group that controls a 20,000-square mile arc of Syria and Iraq.
For the Kurd, it is a bittersweet victory, as some 200,000 people, almost the entire population of Koran province, are still sheltering in Turkey.
But many were exuberant. Dozens of men waiting at the Turkish crossing to return to Koran late last week shouted and danced for joy, unframed by the wrecked city looming behind them.
Most of Koran is destroyed, with unexplored shells and twisted hunks of cars strewn along the streets.
A few solitary TPG fighters in baggy fatigues prowl the town as shelling and gunfire echo in the distance. Fighting has now moved to the dusty outskirts, for the 400 or so villages that Islamic State, or ISIS, steamroller through in September.
“This victory is for the Syrian people, but it is a first step,” said Indris Nissan, a senior official in Koran . “We have to continue until we destroy ISIS. If they remain in Syria, Iraq or other places in the world, they will attack us again.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war from Britain, said Islamic State persists in rural areas more than 10 km (six miles) from town.
“Islamic State has relocated some fighters from the countryside north of Aleppo to villages around Koran,” said the Observatory’s Ramie Abdul rah man, who also noted Syrian government offensives across Syria as the war heads into is fifth year.
The civil war, which began as a popular uprising against President Bashaw al-As sad in March 2011, has killed 200,000 people and turned 3 million more into refugees.