A U.S. Army veteran and another soldier have been killed in Raqqa while fighting alongside the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).
Former Army Sgt. Nicholas Warden, 29, from Buffalo, New York, and Robert Grodt, 29, from California, were killed in an explosion in the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Kurdish forces confirmed to the Military Times.
Warden, a combat veteran and infantryman, started his military career in 2007 in 101st Airborne Division, before completing two tours of Afghanistan and reaching the title of sergeant in the process.
The North American Kurdish Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to Kurdish causes, will hold a welcome ceremony for when the bodies of the two men arrive back in America.
The news brings the number of U.S. fatalities in northern Syria to nine, as the coalition of American soldiers and Kurdish fighters seek to obliterate the Islamic State from the region.
Two of the deaths took place in January this year, as American volunteer Albert Avery Harrington died after being caught in a bomb explosion, as well as Paolo Todd, who was killed on the frontline.
The YPG has regularly attracted support from Americans and other Westerners who volunteer to fight the Islamic State alongside them. One of their main methods is through a crowdfunded page known as Lions of Rojava, in which volunteers solicit support from the public towards their missions.
In June 2015, American Keith Broomfield became the first citizen to die fighting as a volunteer with Kurdish units. He received an elaborate funeral and was consequently buried as a Kurdish martyr.
Having successfully driven ISIS out of their former stronghold of Mosul, the coalition is now turning to Raqqa as a strategic priority to defeat the organization altogether.
In February, the Syrian Kurdish fighters belonging to a ground coalition known as the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which works closely with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), said that President Donald Trump had provided them with unprecedented weapons support, something they did not receive under the Obama administration.
In May, Trump also approved the transfer of even heavier weapons, which would be approved for the Syrian Kurdish forces as they close in on the remaining ISIS territories in Raqqa.
However, U.S. support for the group has infuriated Turkey, who consider the YPG to be a terrorist organization due to their attacks on Turkish soil. A ceasefire between Turkey and the YPG ended last year and violent clashes have since claimed hundreds of lives on both sides.