Nick Paton Walsh spent two days covering the fighting in Kobani, Syria
Weeks of fighting between Kurds and ISIS have devastated the Kurdish city
Paton Walsh answered question about his experiences on Reddit
CNN Senior International Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh spent two days in the Kobani, Syria, covering the heavy fighting between Kurdish forces and ISIS militants that has devastated the city. Thousands of civilians still live in the city, either unwilling or unable to flee.
Paton Walsh described his experiences – including meeting a group of children who played in a makeshift graveyard and hid under cushions to protect themselves from ISIS shelling – in an ask me anything chat on Reddit.
Here are the highlights from the hourlong conversation. Some of the posts have been edited for grammar and clarity.
Q: “I’m sure you saw and experienced a lot of devastating things in your time over there. What was the most heartbreaking thing you saw? Do you think outside/foreign involvement over there is having more of a positive or negative impact on the people?” asked smedynski.
Paton Walsh: “The kids in their cushion shelter is always tough. I also remember a bomb shelter some kids made – two years ago now – in a refugee camp in Bab al Salama. They were literally digging a cave with their hands.
Foreign help comes in many forms. ISIS have some foreigners. The Turkish are just across the border, but the Kurds claim they are impeding resupply. The Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga help a lot with heavy weapons. And the coalition airstrikes also keep ISIS back and have helped the Kurds hang on. But in the end the sheer volume of outside parties now with stakes in the fight for the town means that it will go on a long time.”
Q: “Hi Nick, amazing report from Kobani - how long were you there and how did you get in?” asked SuzanneLavery.
Paton Walsh: “Thanks. We were there just under 48 hours. I can’t really say much about how we got in – it was a mix of simple and complicated – but we are grateful to the Kurds for their hospitality and care.”
Q: “What’s the current situation for journalists there? Interested to know about how you get your stories out, how you manage the day to day?” asked ithinkandroid . “Thank you in advance.”
Paton Walsh: “It is complicated. Anyone attempting entry should spend weeks thinking about it, and not file until out. Day to day, you need the full invitation and hospitality of the Kurds to operate in any way.”
Q: “Did you feel safe under the Kurds care and hospitality?” asked monhen.
Paton Walsh: Yes, as safe as one can there.
Q: You probably aren’t allowed to answer this, but, I’ll ask anyways.
“How does your personal understanding and experience being there, seeing things, and working there differ from what is ultimately reported? Perhaps it doesn’t? Or, maybe it does? In either case, I am curious to hear your thoughts. And, thanks for taking the time to do this AMA!” asked rurd.
Paton Walsh: “It’s the same. There isn’t some process by which we see and feel a lot of things that we then ignore and follow a preordained script. You see what we do. I know that’s hard to believe in this social media age of micro-digestion, but it’s true.”
Q: “Did you interview any ISIS members?” asked shouldbeworking23.
Paton Walsh: “The nature of ISIS means that in person you are unlikely – or ill-advised – to interview them. Social media interaction and Skype are possible – and my colleagues have managed that. The Kurds did not have any ISIS prisoners at the time we were inside Kobani.”
Q: “Thank you and your team for being professionals and risking your lives for the story. Did you meet any foreign nationals fighting for the Kurdish side? Is there any truth to the reports of ISIS getting resupplied from the Turkish side of the border? How effective do you think are the allied airstrikes on ISIS? And last but not least, have you ever touched Wolf Blitzer’s beard? Again, thank you.” asked Rihannas_forehead.
Paton Walsh: “No, no foreign nationals. We were told there may be some, but saw none.
ISIS are not, as far as we can see, getting any resupply – the Turkish are in a bind as they are both presumably trying to not end up in an open fight with ISIS, whilst securing their own borders.
The coalition airstrikes are being effective in terms of denying ISIS the chance to take all of Kobani. The strikes have also meant ISIS have had to pour in and lose fighters and equipment. They can’t finish the fight off, though. That will take better equipping for the Kurds.
Wolf’s beard is off limits. Period.”
Q: “Hey Nick. What do you see as the best solution for the situation in Syria right now? Any ideas how to remove Assad from power (if that is even the best way to go about reaching some level of peace)?” asked ceclimber22.
Paton Walsh: “You can’t tackle ISIS without also addressing the reason why such extremism has a constituency – the three years of massacres of Sunnis that Assad forces perpetrated. but an overall solution for Syria is outside of the resources the U.S. wants to commit at this point. there are also too many other players who want an opposite outcome – Iran/Russia. the U.S. should be, and perhaps has been, mindful that their increased presence – like ground troops – has often become the lightning rod for all anger – adding a new problem rather than fixing the original one. In end, Syria is going to be a conflict that tires of itself. One key problem is that this war has become a proxy conflict for many sides and keeps expanding – dragging in Iraq, and more different militias. So the point in which the combatants get exhausted keeps staying out of reach. It will take a singular seismic event that prompts serious international action, or more likely eventual exhaustion, to stop this war.”
Q: “What are your thoughts on the CIA ISIS torture videos released yesterday? Do you think the videos will provoke ISIS to expedite their attacks on U.S. soil? Also, from your perspective, how concerned should we be in regards to ISIS growth? The news reports they’re growing rapidly was this evident during your time in Syria?” asked Britney_Lewin.
Paton Walsh: “ISIS grew most rapidly when they were not on the global radar, and then when they ran into Iraq, taking Mosul. Since then, their victories have been incremental. They haven’t had the huge storming win they need for recruitment – the constant forward motion that many analysts say makes them attractive to future recruits. They are growing in terms of infrastructure and organization perhaps, but not geographical reach – if you exclude a handful of pledges of allegiance in other countries that are symbolically worrying, but not game-changers.”
Q: “Does ISIS/ISIL actually consider the term ‘Daesh’ as offensive? I have only seen the one report by “residents” in Mosul saying that the fighters and leadership see it as offensive. Will renaming them, across all fronts, actually do anything? Thanks!” asked zib_al-jihad.
Paton Walsh: “I don’t think renaming them Daesh makes any difference. It might mildly annoy those who watch French politicians on TV. But in the end, a slightly more forcible strategy is required than intellectualized name-calling.”
Q: “If you could tell the American public just one thing about ISIS, what would it be?” asked oHolo.
Paton Walsh: “A decade of policies in the Middle East helped create them. You need to help find and fund the solution, or it will become a problem on your soil, not just the Middle East.”