Mohammed A. Salih reports: It was a sunny day in late November when Ahmed Ismael, 22, went with a group of seven other fighters to ambush militants from the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, on the eastern flank of this besieged town.
Then the plan went terribly wrong. The would-be ambushers were themselves ambushed. Two car bombs exploded and a group of jihadists blocked their way from behind, cutting off their exit route. During the intense firefight that followed, four Kurdish fighters died, including three of Ahmed’s cousins.
“They had heavy weapons but we only had AK-47s,” says Ahmed, his voice still shaky as he recounts the details. “It was my first real fight. We stayed there for four hours. We ran out of ammunition. I was next to my cousins when they died.”
As the fight raged on, Ahmed and the three women fighters who were part of the mission, sent out calls for help. Finally, a squad of reinforcements arrived and they were able to retreat.
Since then, there have been many other skirmishes, so many that war has come to seem a ways of life for Ahmed and his older brother Nusin. But neither had ever thought before that they were destined to become fighters. They had led a quiet life in this otherwise rural and peripheral town in northern Syria that, until a few months ago, few people had ever heard of outside the region. They were carpenters making chairs, beds and other rudimentary pieces of furniture for the locals.
But when the jihadists from ISIS launched a large-scale assault on Kobani in September, the two brothers had to make a choice. “We wondered what to do,” says 24-year-old Nushin. “We sent our family to Turkey,” he says, “But this is our town. The two of us did not want to leave. Where could we go? We decided to stay here and defend our home.” [Continue reading…]