Fighting evil

I have seen the horrors of ISIS up close. The West must not abandon the victims.

Macer Gifford

Topics Politics World

I will always remember the day that I met Tufan. It was May 2016 and we met by chance on the frontline in the war against the Islamic State. It was 1am and we were both paired up to do guard duty opposite a village called Til Nasri. The population of that occupied village had met a grim fate just a few weeks before. A large force of some 2,000 ISIS fighters had attacked this large Christian community in the middle of the night. Almost the entire village had been dragged kicking and screaming from their homes, loaded on to vans and sent south to Raqqa – most would never be seen again.

Tufan was young, perhaps 19. Even in the moonlight I could see he was a handsome guy. As we talked, the dull drone of a US Spectre gunship flew overhead. It didn’t take long for it to start hammering the ISIS positions a little further down the line. Tufan looked out of place — he should have been at university or at home with his family instead of fighting in this savage war.

When I asked about his family a shadow passed over his face. Nearly a year before he had gone to school in Qamishli the day ISIS overran Sinjar. His family were Yazidis and they lived a few miles south of Sinjar mountain, one of the holiest places on earth for the Yazidi people. It didn’t take long for news of the massacres and the enslavement of thousands of women and girls to reach him. He had initially attempted to hitch a ride to the mountain, begging passing refugees for news of his village. After a day or two, he found his way south blocked. The Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) had rallied and were now engaged in vicious fighting with the Islamic State. Weeks turned into months and no news of his community could be found. He was offered the chance to flee to Europe but instead he chose to join the YPG: if his family were alive, he was prepared to battle to the very heart of the Islamic State to get them back.

A few months after Tufan joined the YPG, in December 2014, I left the UK to join them as well. I was 27 years old, a currency broker by trade but an idealist and humanitarian at heart. I’d seen the massacre of the Yazidi people and the mass rape of the thousands of young girls. It filled me with rage and I could barely sleep at night, knowing what ISIS was doing to communities across Syria and Iraq. Fighting ISIS and joining local people in the battle against their savagery was the very least I could do.

The most I could do was to use my growing profile in the conflict to shame the West and to call for greater support for local forces. The strength of ISIS was magnified by the appalling lack of leadership and cohesion in the Western response to their atrocities. While tens of thousands of ISIS fighters rampaged over Syria and Iraq, the UK was locked in a debate about what an effective response to the crisis would look like. I can only guess that after 10 years of war in Afghanistan, the UK was suffering the ill effects of ‘war fatigue’. It was left to hundreds of International Volunteers from around the world to fill the gap and to show local people that they weren’t alone in fighting the evil of the Islamic State.

My chance encounter with Tufan came in my first year. After a few months of friendship we lost touch when I moved between units. The fighting intensified as we moved south towards Raqqa, and as the years passed I soon forgot about my friend and the tragic circumstances that brought us together.

By October 2017 I was a veteran of the ISIS war. The battle for Raqqa was coming to an end and I knew that once the city was liberated I would be leaving Syria for the last time. When news of the ISIS surrender came, I emerged on to the roof of my building in shock. Around me the city was in ruins. Thousands had died over the four-month siege and the once ancient city was left devastated by the Islamic State. My emotions were like a pendulum that swung between grief and pride. We had defeated the ISIS ‘caliphate’ but at what cost? Some 12,000 YPG / Syrian Democratic Forces fighters lay dead, including eight British and nearly 40 other International Volunteers.

All I could do now was to tell my story. To write about what I did in Syria and about the wonderful people I met along the way. My book, Fighting Evil, was published this month. It has been described as ‘Homage to Catalonia – only with suicide bombers, drones and much dirtier combat’. I couldn’t think of a better compliment, but in truth I hope it stands as testimony to the evil of ISIS and the bravery of the Kurdish people. I was a witness to history in Syria, and the years I spent in solidarity with the Kurds were a true honour.

Not only is the book a story of bravery and commitment — it is also a warning. I have seen with my own eyes the horrors of ISIS. Just one in 10 jihadists that returned to the UK from Syria have faced a courtroom. Dozens of British fanatics, like Shamima Begum and Jack Letts, are now in YPG custody, and are waiting to come back to the UK. The tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners in Syria are a disaster waiting to happen, they are an army waiting to break out. The UK must aid the Kurds in keeping these monsters in jail: they have made their bed and must be made to lie in it.

And what of my friend Tufan? Just last month I received news. He was wounded a few years ago on the frontline and was medically discharged from the YPG. He is now living in a refugee camp in Iraq with thousands of other Yazidis. Can you think of a greater stain on the conscience of the Western world? A man who lost his family, fought against ISIS and helped defeat them, is living in worse conditions than that of foreign jihadis who went to kill his family.

Until our politicians realise who the real victims are in this conflict, the world won’t see any justice in Syria.

Macer Gifford is a human-rights activist and anti-ISIS campaigner. He served for three years in the Kurdish YPG. Follow him on Twitter: @macergifford.

Fighting Evil: The Ordinary Man who went to War Against ISIS, by Macer Gifford, is published by Seven Dials. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

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Andrew Levens

4th July 2020 at 12:33 pm

Well the US has a mixed record in standing by its allies and the UK, despite all its pretentions as a world power generally just does what the US tells it to. Don’t forget that despite all the movies about WW2, it was happy for the UK to fight Germany alone until Germany actually declared war on the US and they had no choice. The US always comes first, and while they are happy to join in with Kurds etc when it suits them, they just walk away when that suits them too.
Russia seems to have a more reliable record with its allies.

K Tojo

2nd July 2020 at 12:48 pm

The way our beloved MSM reported the ISIS wars was despicable. The whole emphasis was on playing the “Gotcha” game with Western politicians. Western guilt seems always to be the main priority with these reporters.

This relentless examining of our own consciences (apparently, a noble, wise and moral thing to do) means that even now commentators show more interest in denouncing Western intervention and fretting about whether “naive and radicalised” ISIS fighters should be allowed to return. The term “humanitarian” should be viewed with suspicion – it often allows evil to take its course. In our feminised society giving humanitarian aid is ok – getting into a lethal, all out fight with perpetrators of oppression and cruelty “just makes us as bad as they are”.

Meanwhile, the “Gothcha” game continues. Have you ever been less than politically correct? The Twitter lynch mob will find you out and the MSM will cheer them on, declaring you unfit for our sharing, caring, humanitarian society.

Mor Vir

2nd July 2020 at 11:14 am

This is a recent review of the recovery of I S in Iraq.

Remaining and Expanding: The Recovery of Islamic State Operations in Iraq in 2019-2020

Abstract: The Islamic State has recovered from its territorial defeats since 2017 to mount a strong and sustained resurgence as an insurgent force inside Iraq. A new analysis of attack metrics from the past 18 months paints a picture of an Islamic State insurgency that has regained its balance, spread out across many more areas, and reclaimed significant tactical proficiency. Now operating at the same levels it achieved in 2012, a number of factors suggest that the Islamic State could further ramp up its rural insurgency in 2020 and 2021. An input of experienced cadres from Syria, a downturn in Iraqi and coalition effectiveness, and now the disruption of a combined COVID and economic crisis will likely all feed into an escalating campaign of attrition against the Iraqi state, military, and tribes.

The Islamic State continues to show very significant resilience inside Iraq, undertaking a surge in attack activities in the second half of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020. According to the authors’ dataset, the number of reported Islamic State attacks increased from 1,470 in 2018 to 1,669 in 2019, with 566 reported attacks in the first quarter of 2020 alone.1 These national-level figures, supported by detailed qualitative and province-by-province breakdowns in the following sections, paint a picture of a militant organization that is reestablishing itself in Iraq, possibly drawing (in the authors’ assessment) on a cadre of experienced tactical leaders and bomb makers that returned from the Syrian battlefields in 2019.2 a As prior articles in CTC Sentinel have noted,3 the movement has undertaken an agile, fluid, and pragmatic shift back to insurgency in every area of Iraq where the group has lost physical control of populations and resources. In areas such as Diyala province, which this publication identified in 20164 as the likely future locus for Islamic State operations,5 the insurgency has been continuously operating since 2003 and is now recovering strongly, becoming the most active Islamic State wilaya (province) in 2019 and 2020.b

Marvin Jones

2nd July 2020 at 10:35 am

At the height of the battle with ISIS, a brutal mutant species that never really got to the human state of evolution, were facing around 60 countries in this war. These 60 odd countries possessed the most powerfully armed and trained fighters on the planet, but were run ragged by this rag tag pack of inhumane primitive savages. When we did get them to surrender, they were allowed to leave the area with their families AND their arms and ammunition. They are still causing death, destruction and misery. They must be zapped from existing on this planet.

Gareth Edward KING

2nd July 2020 at 7:58 am

Macer Gifford is testimony to the greatness in Man. I look forward to reading his book.

George Whale

2nd July 2020 at 7:39 am

The ongoing genocide of Middle Eastern Christians by Islamic fanatics barely registers with Western Church leaders and governments. But even if it did, what is the writer suggesting we do? Every Western military intervention there has been a disaster, creating further battalions of jihadis, many now stationed in the West waiting to strike. If we can’t even remove them from our own countries, what chance of defeating ISIS abroad? We are not the world’s saviour. Ultimately, the shitholes of the world will have to sort out their own chaos. The best the West can do is to stop poking the hornet’s nest and secure our own borders.

Linda Payne

2nd July 2020 at 7:01 am

An incredibly moving and informative article; What do we do with the ISIS that are in custody? Shame corona virus can’t sort that problem out

Marvin Jones

2nd July 2020 at 10:39 am

Linda, I think every civilised country should have a Guantanamo type accommodation for these sub human mutants. But first we must abolish the human rights acts, these are not human.

Dominic Straiton

2nd July 2020 at 6:48 am

The government wont even release the rape gang report here, so caring whats going on somewhere else is unlikely.

David Wolcott

2nd July 2020 at 1:02 am

A moving story, Macer. It is important in its own right, of course, but it also serves to highlight the first-world problems that many are willing to destroy their own society for, such as seeing systemic racism in a food label. Tufan, his family and his country suffered real problems, real suffering, real tragedy and their towns were utterly destroyed in the name of a greater cause. Save us all from greater causes.

Mor Vir

2nd July 2020 at 12:56 am

‘they have made their bed and must be made to lie in it’


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