A young Corkman fighting Islamic State (IS) in Syria describes life in the “dark mess” of the Raqqa front.
James has been in Syria for several months and is part of the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) closing in on the capital of the Islamic State in Raqqa.
The former media graduate says life on the front is a terrifying fight for survival.
“I’m scared, and anybody who says different is a fool or a liar, it’s a bloody, dirty, dark mess, but it’s something that has to be done,” he said.
In a brief break before returning to the front, the young Corkman described his role in the battle to clear IS from the city.
“We’re based on the eastern front pushing west. We’re back for a few days and are staying in a house with our Kurdish tabour [platoon] a safe distance from the city. Depending on what is happening and what orders we receive, we go out at night to try to take more ground,” he said.
The Kurdish-led SDF ground troops are seen as the most successful in the fight against IS and have recently been armed by the US who offer air support.
James travelled to Syria more than two months ago to join the group in the push for Raqqa.
“We have pushed past the wall and are in the old city closing in the castle,” he said.
“When we were heading into the city we met up with some US air force and army.
“I asked one guy if the rumours of the wall being breached were true. He said most definitely as he was the one who destroyed it. That gave us some extra momentum.”
James says deadly mines hide around every corner and that IS boobytrap each house in the city that they used to sell Yazidi women in slave markets.
“Mines and IEDs are everywhere. There are multiple types of IEDs like pressure plates, tripwire, motion sensor and remote detonated ones.
“Houses can have an explosive device set in every single doorway. They had a lot of time to rig the city and they used it well. The sabotage teams normally go out first after we take ground and they clear the mines by dismantling them. There are so many though so they always miss a few.”
He said they always need to be on guard.
“They also leave booby-trapped weapons, flags and Qurans around. Anything can be a trap so we have to always stay vigilant,” he said.
James said he left his comfortable life at home to join the SDF after he felt people in the west had become desensitised to the plight of those fighting IS.
“It’s a big change from sitting in a bar, going to gigs and hanging with my friends,” he said.
“Sure, I could be using my degree and making some money but this is a much more important thing to be doing.
“There is an evil group of people who have had free reign over this neck of the woods for three years. They even broadcast their atrocities to the world. This isn’t the Nazis hiding the concentration camps from the local civilians in the ‘40s.
“These people post high-quality videos of them mass executing innocent people and the world seems to have gotten desensitized to that fact. If we don’t all stand up and do something then we have lost a part of our own humanity and empathy for others,” he said.
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