TEL AVIV – An American Jew was killed fighting Islamic State militants in the battle for Manbij, a city in northern Syria.
Levi Jonathan Shirley, who was fighting IS as a civilian member of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), is the U.S. backed-militia’s seventh Western recruit – and the second American – to be killed.
YPG released a video honoring Shirley, featuring a clip of him in fatigues explaining his choice.
“I came here to fight Daesh [ISIS], they are my definition of pure evil. I don’t think good people in a society can put people inside of a cage and set them on fire, I came here to stop that,” he said.
In the past month, YPG, numbering about 30,000 fighters, and troops from the Syrian Democratic Forces have been engaged in a massive offensive to regain control of Manbij, a city that is 30 kilometers west of the Euphrates River.
Shirley, who is also known as Agir Servan – meaning “fire” – first joined the YPG in February 2015. After returning to the U.S. for a visit, he went back to Syria in January 2016 and fought in the battle for Kobani, which gained renown as a symbol of resistance to the Islamic State.
His mother, Susan Shirley, said that her son had always wanted to join the U.S. Marine Corps but his eyesight was too weak. Failing that, 24-year-old Shirley said he wanted to go and fight IS, which he viewed as “pure evil.”
“He had a very big heart,” she said. “He was so brave to go back the second time, knowing what he was in for. He just really cared about the underdog.”
On a Facebook page under his Kurdish pseudonym, Shirley seemed to make a reference to Donald Trump’s remarks about Muslims, posting, “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.”
Jonathan Botan, another American Jew serving alongside the YPG, said that Shirley was “was a great guy and a good soldier.”
Botan also believes that “more Jews should get involved. As far as I know there were only four or five in total that joined the YPG.”
Last month, the State Department said American Keith Broomfield was killed fighting alongside Kurdish troops in Kobani.