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The Girls Who Fought to Defend Their Houses In opposition to ISIS

The Women Who Fought to Defend Their Homes Against ISIS


Once I first requested the American particular operations troopers who among the many fighters they labored with I ought to meet in Syria, one of many first names that at all times arose was Azeema. She got here from Qamishli, a city in northeastern Syria, and was recognized for her relentless willingness to steer from the entrance, her swashbuckling method, her chain-smoking methods and her wry humorousness. She was a part of the Girls’s Safety Models, the all-women’s power that confronted off in opposition to ISIS on the bottom every day, preventing the boys of the Islamic State room-by-room and house-by-house, and she or he had began preventing ISIS in 2013 earlier than the group was formally born. In Kobani, a city few exterior Syria had heard of earlier than the Islamic State’s gorgeous string of wins in 2014, Azeema got here to steer men and women within the struggle in opposition to the extremists of ISIS who needed to impose their distinctive model of terror on Kobani’s streets. She felt from the beginning that Kobani would by no means fall to ISIS, however for a number of months within the fall of 2014, her prediction regarded almost unimaginable to consider. Even the Individuals, who from the air supported this band of Syrian Kurds, frightened overtly that their air energy wouldn’t be sufficient to cease the boys of the Islamic State from including Kobani to its listing of victories. However Azeema by no means felt otherwise, even whereas she and her fellow fighters battled the boys of ISIS every day.

 

The primary time she fought home to deal with, Azeema took just one lesson from the expertise: If they uncover weak point in us, they’ll win.

That had turn out to be the reality of the battle for her. She might solely take into consideration her position within the struggle in a method: The enemy in entrance of me, this man standing 9 toes away, he has come to kill me. He massacred my folks. It’s my job to kill him first. And that’s all there may be.

“Haval Azeema,” the invisible voice spoke from her pocket once more. “What is occurring there? What’s the scenario?”

Azeema stopped her work boring a gap via the wall in the home they’d simply taken and squatted low to reply her commander.

“They’ve been rocketing us all day and their snipers killed certainly one of our fighters once we crossed the road,” Azeema instructed Nowruz. “We hung the black curtain throughout the buildings to guard our place, however they know this tactic they usually shot the place they guessed we have been and obtained fortunate.”

What Azeema overlooked, Nowruz already knew. After the ISIS sniper killed Azeema’s fighter, a younger lady who additionally was a good friend, two different ISIS males ran out, grabbed her physique, and dragged her towards their place. Then they took out their as soon as‑glimmering knives, now turned brown by Kobani’s mud and rubble, and beheaded her corpse proper there on the road for all their males to see. Azeema watched as her good friend’s head with its brown hair rolled away from her physique and her blood turned the bottom beneath her from uninteresting gray to deep purple. In case Azeema or her teammates had any doubt about what destiny awaited them if captured, ISIS erased it. Typically the Islamic State shared pictures of beheaded YPJ fighters on social media.

Azeema needed revenge. The extra mates and battlefield buddies ISIS shot useless or rocketed or beheaded, the extra motivated she and her forces grew to shove these males out of their city and handy them their first army defeat.

Typically in the midst of their offensives, whereas they shot their weapons at Azeema and her unit, ISIS fighters would shout “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is nice.” Their cries would echo throughout the town’s streets and interrupt the rat‑tat‑rat‑tat sound of small‑arms fireplace. Azeema’s troopers would shout again in Arabic, “Kobani is the best!”

In quieter moments, throughout pauses within the preventing, her forces would escape the tambor, an instrument akin to a banjo. A younger fighter named Baran, who had a deep singing voice all of them beloved, would choose up his instrument and play songs about Kobani and the chums they’d misplaced:

Right this moment, I’ll make Kobani’s resistance right into a poem and distribute it amongst all of the folks of the world.

Ah, woe to me, I’m gazing on the streets of Kobani and seeing the moms’ tears.

Youngsters and the aged are crying out; tears of kids are streaming via the streets of Kobani just like the Euphrates River.

Even when it have been your final second, Azeema determined, you could possibly nonetheless sing and dance. You couldn’t shed your humanity simply because your enemy had misplaced theirs.

Azeema grew accustomed to the bodily depth of battle and the noise and the smells. However she would by no means get used to the loss of life of her mates. She would replay each loss in her thoughts. However as a lot as she needed to dwell on every loss of life, and study from it, she knew she couldn’t: she would lose many extra of her forces if she didn’t deliver 100 % of her focus to the sound of bullets coming for them. At night time, if she might relaxation, she would take into consideration these ISIS had killed whereas she waited for sleep.

Nowruz’s voice got here again in.

“Azeema, keep the place you’re,” she mentioned. “We face an enormous struggle each on the west facet and the east facet of the town, and we have to defend the traces that we’ve. Don’t transfer ahead. Maintain your place.”

Azeema had anticipated that Nowruz would say this, however she additionally knew that her crew needed to make progress quickly or ISIS would have the ability to join their positions and encircle them absolutely. Azeema had earned a repute for taking dangers others wouldn’t and possibly even shouldn’t. When Nowruz had come to go to her the week earlier than, she instructed Azeema one thing she would by no means share on the radio for others to overhear: that they already had misplaced sufficient commanders to ISIS bullets and mortars. They wanted her to remain alive; they wanted her management.

“Haval Azeema, you’re doing simply what we want you to proper there. Maintain the place and maintain them again,” Nowruz mentioned once more on the radio. Her voice got here in firmer than normal.

“I perceive,” Azeema mentioned. “Haval Nowruz, one different factor: we actually want bullets right here. We’re working low on ammunition. When ought to we count on provides?”

There was a pause on the opposite finish of the radio. Then: “We’re doing our greatest, Haval. We’ll get one thing to you by tomorrow.” Azeema trusted Nowruz, however she had a sense that they have been critically low on each troop reinforcements and bullets. On this case, Azeema instructed herself, possibly it was finest to know much less as a substitute of extra. If ammunition wouldn’t arrive for days, no level in listening to that now. She shoved her radio again into her vest and returned her focus to the struggle.

Simply then her silver cellphone rang.

“Azeema.” It was Dilawer, one of many males who fought along with her, together with Harun, his teammate. Dilawer’s tone was calm. “We have now an enormous drawback. Daesh has an entire group of us pinned down over right here; they’ve us beneath siege,” he mentioned, utilizing one other title for ISIS. “We’re trapped.”

Courtesy Mustafa AlaliAzeema standing with a flag within the Kobani countryside in Syria, in January 2015.

The plan had been for 3 or 4 small teams of fighters to clear ISIS from a number of homes they thought they might take over; the YPG forces got down to meet in a single location, with reinforcements to observe shortly. ISIS, nevertheless, discovered the hole between the groups and exploited it; as a substitute of 1 bigger YPG group battling a smattering of ISIS males, Dilawer and his teammates had turn out to be sitting geese within the two‑story home the place they’d managed to gap up.

“Are you able to give me your grid coordinates?” Azeema requested.

“We are able to’t.” Dilawer reminded her of what she already knew: ISIS can be listening. He urged her to come back to the varsity close to Mishtanour Hill so they might attempt to present her an indication that will clarify their location.

“Okay. Don’t fear,” Azeema mentioned. “We’ll get you out of there. And keep off the radios—I don’t need anybody else from our facet attempting to be a hero and coming to rescue you whereas we determine how we’re going to get you out of there. Don’t look out the home windows, as a result of the enemy goes to attempt to shoot you. And unfold out, a number of of you, on the primary flooring to ensure nobody can enter.”

She took a breath whereas she collected her ideas.

“Simply keep calm and I’ll get you out; it doesn’t matter what we’ll get you out of there,” she mentioned, listening to the sound of gunfire directed at her fellow forces whereas she spoke.

She hung up the telephone and stood immobile for only a second. For the primary time in Kobani, Azeema felt doubt and concern tug at her.

She hadn’t eaten greater than bread in near forty hours and had barely slept in days—simply thirty minutes right here and there. When her fighters urged her to relaxation, she would at all times reply them in the identical manner: “If you really feel like at any second a bullet may journey proper to your entrance line, it’s unimaginable to sleep. We’ll sleep when the struggle is over.” Now she wanted to assume and to focus her creativeness on how she would get them out.

She referred to as Nowruz and defined what had occurred, cautious to not use the radio. ISIS monitored their channels, simply because the YPJ monitored ISIS exchanges by taking the radios of the ISIS males they killed. Higher to make use of the cellphone community from the Turkish firm Turkcell, even when it meant Turkey might hear each transfer they made.

She let Nowruz know that she was going to attempt to get nearer to their place. If her forces might get close to sufficient, they might shoot mortars that will create sufficient smoke and confusion for Dilawer’s group to flee.

Azeema knew Nowruz wanted her to remain put—she had already instructed her that. However now twenty‑certainly one of her mates and teammates would die if she did nothing, and she or he would by no means abandon her duty to deliver them again safely.

Azeema nudged two of her fighters to come back along with her, a younger lady she had fought with for months and a younger man who got here from Kobani and knew its neighborhoods nicely. Weapons pressed in opposition to their shoulders, the three of them ducked out of their lined place and got down to rescue their mates.

Arriving on the hillside college, Azeema referred to as Dilawer and Harun again.

“I’m right here on the college and I can’t determine which home is yours,” Azeema mentioned.

“It’s the one that appears like it’s nonetheless being constructed; you’ll be able to see the beams,” Harun mentioned.

“That’s about half the road.” Certainly, all the homes she might see regarded hole‑toothed and injured. And Harun had misplaced depend of what number of homes stood to the left and proper of the place the place they now have been pinned down. There was no option to know the place they have been.

“Okay, let’s do that. Are you able to wave one thing white from the window?” Azeema requested. One other of their fighters, Israel, crawled towards the window of the constructing separating him and his crew from their deaths and waved a white scarf for a number of seconds, letting solely his arm dangle out.

“Obtained you!” Azeema shouted. “Nice. Now are you able to present a purple scarf from the identical window, so I can know it’s you?”

Israel did as she requested.

She referred to as Judi—a younger man liable for the few heavy weapons, equivalent to mortars and machine weapons, the YPG had in its possession—and instructed him to come back to her location as quickly as he might. They wanted to maneuver quick. Then she obtained again on the telephone with Harun and instructed him to attend for her name and to not take directions from anybody else. She knew that different fighters, frightened about Harun and Dilawer and their teammates, have been attempting to supply recommendation over the radio about what they need to do. Quite a lot of what they have been being instructed would get all of them killed, Azeema felt sure. They needed to observe solely her directions if she was going to have the ability to extricate them from this catastrophe.

Two fighters defending Kobani during the battle for Kobani, September 2014
Courtesy Mustafa Alali Two fighters defending Kobani through the battle for Kobani, Syria, in Sept. 2014.

Judi eventually arrived on the college. Azeema pointed to the place their teammates sat awaiting rescue, and Judi examined the space from there to the place they stood.

“Be sure you don’t hit that home,” Azeema mentioned, pointing once more to the place the scarves had simply flown from the window. “However you’ll be able to hit anything in that space. It’s all ISIS. They’ve it surrounded.”

“I don’t know, Haval,” Judi mentioned. “We’ll do our greatest, however I believe we’re prone to be too distant for mortars to make any distinction.” By now it was shut to three:00 p.m., greater than an hour after Azeema first obtained Dilawer’s name. Time mattered they usually have been dropping it.

Judi shook his head and started getting ready. Azeema might inform he didn’t really feel sure that firing mortar rounds would make any distinction, and the reality was that she shared his concern. She needed to transfer up, nearer to the constructing, and see for herself how distant the mortar rounds fell.

“Come on, let’s go see Judi’s work,” Azeema mentioned. She shared a smile with the 2 fighters accompanying her, however none of them underestimated the hazard they have been charging into.

The whistling ping of bullets sliced the air round Azeema and her teammates as they ran, low to the bottom in a excessive‑pace, crouched blur, throughout the primary paved avenue dividing their territory from that of ISIS. They shoved their our bodies behind a gutted construct‑ ing and gathered their breath, discovering security in opposition to the wall. They made no sound and gestured towards the following avenue. They crossed three extra streets the identical manner, absolutely uncovered to ISIS fireplace. Then Azeema felt sure that they might transfer no nearer with out getting themselves killed. The noise of males capturing at them hung in her ears, however judging by the sounds the bullets made, none had landed shut sufficient to actually deliver bother. She craved a cigarette.

Ducking right into a hollowed‑out constructing shut sufficient for her to see the Islamic State’s forces and to make out their black uniforms with ease, Azeema referred to as the group again. They wanted to be able to run, she defined—the smoke from the mortars quickly to be fired would create solely a quick second of chaos and canopy wherein they might escape.

Azeema regarded down at her black digital watch. Solely about twelve or 13 minutes had handed since she left Judi, although adrenaline made it really feel like hours. By her evaluation, the mortar rounds ought to have been falling by now. She puzzled what the holdup might be. Two or three minutes later, the crackling increase of incoming mortars broke up her ideas. She craned her neck within the path of her forces and watched as Judi went to work.

His fears have been realized: not certainly one of his mortars landed close to sufficient to create a gap for Harun, Dilawer, Israel, and the eighteen others ISIS held trapped. Even the closest one landed nicely brief. No smoke in any respect wherein they might make their escape.

Azeema paused and put her head in her fingers whereas she regarded on the floor and spoke to herself silently for a second. She needed to maintain her crew’s spirits up, even when she felt certain they have been run‑ ning out of time and choices.

She referred to as her teammates once more. “Dilawer, don’t fear—we’ve one other plan,” she mentioned. She made certain to sound extra con‑ fident than she felt in that second. “Simply don’t hearken to anybody else—and keep off the radio.”

She had just one choice left.

On the twenty-seventh of September, the U.S. had launched its first strikes within the space of Kobani, with Air Pressure F‑15Es focusing on an ISIS command and management middle. 4 days later, Adm. John Kirby of the Navy, the Pentagon press secretary, introduced that America had performed seventy‑six airstrikes.

But when U.S. airpower sounded sport‑altering from a podium, it certain didn’t seem like it on the bottom. By October, ISIS had managed to again Azeema and Nowruz and their teammates into only a handful of sq. kilometers of the town. So far as weaponry went, the YPG and the YPJ had solely AK‑47s, a random smattering of heavy weapons, and a few PKMs, a machine gun designed de‑ cades earlier. ISIS had tanks, artillery methods, and even 155‑ millimeter Howitzers they’d taken from Iraqi forces, who had obtained the gear from America. They’d armor. They confirmed as much as the struggle with weaponry created to not choose off a fighter right here and there, however to kill their opponents in giant numbers.

Just some days after the U.S. airstrikes started, ISIS dominated the media narrative by elevating two of its black flags on the east facet of the town. On October 7, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who loudly opposed American help to the YPG, put it succinctly: U.S. airstrikes had but to make a dent within the ISIS steamroll.

“Kobani is about to fall,” Erdogan instructed reporters. “I’m telling the West: dropping bombs from the air won’t present an answer.”

On the constraints of serving to the Kurds solely from the air, American political leaders agreed with Erdogan. They labored to decrease the general public’s expectations even whereas TV pictures of a besieged Kobani elevated strain on the White Home to do extra to assist.

“As horrific as it’s to look at in actual time what is occurring in Kobani, it is usually necessary to recollect it’s important to step again and perceive the strategic goal,” Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned in a press convention. The International Coalition to Defeat ISIS, fashioned in September 2014, had political and army aims whose scope went past anybody battle. The struggle in opposition to ISIS was about greater than defending Kobani; it was about attacking the group’s infrastructure and its means to command and management its forces in each Syria and Iraq.

White Home advisers made clear they believed that the autumn of Kobani is likely to be inevitable. Few might think about how airpower alone, with out a U.S. floor presence, would cease ISIS from conquering Kobani. Certainly, in acknowledging this actuality, deputy nationwide safety adviser Tony Blinken urged reporters to understand the dimensions of the problem and simply what number of cities throughout two international locations confronted the identical risk from ISIS.

“There are different Kobanis in Iraq; there are different Kobanis in Syria each day,” Blinken famous.

After all, for these Individuals working with the Syrian Kurds to maintain the city from falling to ISIS—from particular operations leaders within the U.S. to their forces on the bottom in Iraq—there was just one Kobani, and it was taking a beating. Again within the U.S., particular operations leaders and crew members now performed a key position in occasions taking place half a world away. They catalogued a psychological listing of the ISIS benefits: entry to nighttime‑imaginative and prescient gear, thermal weapons sights, and heavy weapons. An actual data of battle, born of expertise and fluency in siege warfare, with the power to enter one house and go via a whole metropolis block undetected by crawling home to deal with via holes blown out between the partitions. ISIS was no rebel operation. Knowledgeable by greater than a decade of preventing the Individuals in Iraq, these males had mustered up a close to‑standard army, a power expert in techniques and aligned on technique to take and maintain territory.

By the tip of the primary week of October, proper across the time of Secretary Kerry’s assertion, the scenario in Kobani was so dire that members of the particular operations crew started to sleep in a convention room at their headquarters on two‑inch‑thick, rollout Tempur‑Pedic mattresses. If the U.S. had the sources out there to launch airstrikes—which at the moment was an enormous “if,” given the deal with Iraq, the restricted airpower within the area solely months prior, and the fact that nobody had deliberate even six months earlier to supply aerial help to a floor power in Syria—and the Syrian Kurds and the Individuals each had a confirmed location the place they might strike ISIS with no civilians current, they needed to do their half to assist. The one manner to make sure the crew might be reached shortly as soon as a location was confirmed? By no means go away the workplace.

Nonetheless, by the second week of October, the U.S. was authorizing airstrikes to help the bottom forces solely in a trickle and barely in time to make a distinction. Leo James, who helped construct the muse for U.S.‑YPG cooperation with Polat Can over the summer time, referred to as his leaders from Sulaymaniyah to argue his case within the clearest language doable.

“We’re going to lose right here—in an enormous, huge manner. And we’re going to lose within the subsequent twenty‑4 hours if we don’t change issues,” Leo mentioned. He himself was preventing ISIS on the bottom within the Iraqi city of Kirkuk—a forty‑minute drive from Sulaymaniyah— at any time when he wasn’t on the operations middle monitoring occasions in Syria. This was what Kerry and Blinken had meant once they mentioned the U.S.‑led coalition’s effort to cease ISIS lined two international locations and was greater than only one city in northern Syria. “This associate goes to be defeated and with it we’ll lose our greatest—in all probability our solely—likelihood to cease these guys. They can’t fall again any additional. They will struggle till the final individual dies, after which this complete factor is throughout. Folks right here can not consider that we will’t do extra. You wish to speak in regards to the story ISIS goes to promote out of this? Are we ready to look at the victory lap they’re about to take?”

As October wore on, the U.S. stepped deeper into the struggle. Kobani had turn out to be an emblem of resistance, fueled by the satellite tv for pc feeds that traveled from cameras on a Turkish hilltop to televisions all world wide.

The strikes started to make a distinction as they got here in larger quantity and with larger frequency; on October 14, U.S. Central Command introduced that it had carried out greater than twenty airstrikes close to Kobani, critically damaging essential ISIS staging areas.

Nonetheless, the Folks’s Safety Models couldn’t at all times get U.S. airpower once they wanted it; certainly, more often than not it took a minimal of an hour for the U.S. to verify places, make sure no civilians might be discovered there, and get the sources mandatory for a strike. That lag had led to misplaced lives. Azeema knew this when she referred to as Bavar, a Syrian Kurd from Kobani who labored because the go‑between for the YPG and the U.S. Bavar had a pill with the city’s coordinates and Google Earth entry. He labored together with his fellow fighters to seek out the precise coordinates of the places the place ISIS gathered. He handed these coordinates to Polat Can or others again in Sulaymaniyah, who then shared them with the Individuals, who started their verification course of.

Azeema referred to as Bavar along with her walkie‑talkie whereas maintaining Dilawer on the road, her cellphone pinned to her proper ear. She saved her voice calm, urging Dilawer to stick with her and never hand over and never hearken to anybody attempting to place ahead one other plan; assist would arrive. She simply needed to get everybody to hold in there a bit longer.

“Maintain on, Dilawer,” Azeema mentioned, handing the telephone to a teammate as Bavar answered her name on the radio. Azeema started describing in brief sentences precisely the place her forces sat trapped. Static interfered each fifth or sixth phrase. She repeated their location to ensure he heard.

“Look, I do know the Individuals can’t reply each request for strikes, however we’ve near twenty‑5 folks in there,” she mentioned. “We have now no different choice if ISIS isn’t going to kill them.”

Bavar acknowledged the grid coordinates and went on to transmit his message: Kobani to Sulaymaniyah, Sulaymaniyah to the U.S., and the U.S. again to the Center East, the place American airplanes awaited approvals.

Azeema paced within the shell of a construction the place she now holed up, ready to see what would occur, whereas her request for a strike traveled throughout the globe.

She obtained again on the telephone with Dilawer’s group and yelled at them to crouch in corners, away from home windows, with their fingers over their ears.

Minutes handed. She began to consider what would occur if she needed to recuperate our bodies as a substitute of her teammates alive.

Out of the blue the clatter of a B‑1 bomber overhead shook the earth on which Azeema was pacing.

A whizzing roar overwhelmed her ears because the bomber unleashed its munitions. Seconds handed as she noticed the explosives fall towards the earth.

She stopped respiratory.

Lastly, solely moments later, Azeema watched buildings buckle towards the bottom and, with them, all these inside. Smoke billowed and rolled down the road in waves because the charred constructions leveled by the strike exhaled black.

Azeema referred to as Harun, however he didn’t reply. She ran ahead, straight towards the constructing too harmful to method just a few minutes earlier. She needed to be the primary to greet her teammates if they really made it out.

After which she noticed it: the large smile of Dilawer as he ran towards her, stuffed with pleasure. Azeema caught him in her arms and the 2 hugged.

“The others?” she requested. “Everyone seems to be alive.”

Azeema doubled over, her chest touching her knee for a second because the information that nobody was useless sank in. Considered one of their teammates, a younger lady, had been shot within the leg. Shrapnel had hit Harun within the brow and left a gash. However they’d all survived.

Considered one of Azeema’s fighters referred to as on the radio for a automobile to whisk their injured teammates to the hospital. They wanted care immediately—they’d misplaced quite a lot of blood. However each have been acutely aware and regarded remarkably completely satisfied for individuals who had been wounded.

By the point Azeema and her forces—together with the unhurt nineteen who had made it via the day’s occasions—returned to their positions on the southern entrance line, night time and its crisp coolness had arrived.

“Relaxation tonight,” Azeema instructed her troops. She gave the fighters who had been by her facet all day a wink. “Get sleep. Tomorrow is assured to deliver extra journey.”

She eventually took her rifle off her shoulder and punctiliously positioned it subsequent to her.

“First World Conflict I, then World Conflict II, now Kobani,” Azeema mentioned, lighting the cigarette she had considered for hours, a twinkle of mischief in her darkish brown eyes. “The world isn’t going to neglect this struggle.”

Excerpted from THE DAUGHTERS OF KOBANI: a Story of Riot, Braveness, and Justice by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, printed by Penguin Press