The bodies of three Americans who died fighting the Islamic State alongside the Syrian Kurds — YPG militia — are being repatriated to the United States.
“On Monday the corpses of three YPG fighters, who were American citizens, were transferred to the Kurdistan Region through the Semelka border town,” said Shawkat Berbahari, manager of the Pishkhabour border crossing with Syria, as reported by Rudaw. “The three American fighters were killed during Manbij liberation operations. A U.S. consulate delegation attended the ceremony of returning the three corpses as they were handed over to them.”
Manbij is a Syrian town recently liberated from ISIS by Kurdish-led forces. Among other gruesome souvenirs of the Islamic State’s presence, the liberators have discovered a women’s prison filled with torture devices.
The three Americans are identified as Jordan MacTaggart, William Savage, and Levi Jonathan Shirley. According to the YPG, they are among at least 264 fighters killed during the Manbij operation. 4,180 ISIS militants were also reportedly killed.
The three were evidently not killed in the same engagement, as the Daily Beast recalls Shirley’s death was reported in July, while MacTaggart’s was in August.
Rudaw reported that Savage died on August 10, after being seriously injured in an ISIS bombardment. He joined the YPG in early 2015, fighting under the Kurdish name “Amed Kobane.” He hailed from Maryland.
Shirley joined the YPG in February 2015, returned to the United States for a time, and went back to battle the Islamic State in January 2016, according to the Jerusalem Post.
He was 24 years old, born in Colorado, and Jewish. Another American Jew who fought with the YPG, Jonathan Botan, said he was “a great guy and a good solider.”
“He had a very big heart… He was so brave to go back the second time, knowing what he was in for. He just really cared about the underdog,” said his mother, Susan Shirley.
Shirley himself explained, in a video released by the YPG, that ISIS met his “definition of pure evil,” specifically mentioning the immolation of captured Jordanian pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh as an example of the Islamic State’s perfidy.
The Jerusalem Post notes that Shirley was strongly critical of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration, arguing in a December 2015 Facebook post, “You can’t just arbitrarily kick out millions of law-abiding citizens because you don’t like their religion – that’s not an American value.”
MacTaggart, who was also from Colorado, was reportedly killed on August 3rd, inside the city of Manbij.
“Jordan and his team members found a group of their comrades besieged by the terrorists, as they tried to reach the perimeter to rescue them Jordan was hit by enemy fire and was martyred in action,” a Kurdish militia official said, in a letter to his parents.
ABC News in Denver reports MacTaggart had been previously wounded in battle, and for a time believed his wound was fatal. He has stated he was an atheist, who saw joining the YPG to fight ISIS as “something productive he could do with his life.”