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Qanishli, Syria – An Australian fighter was reportedly killed on Saturday, two months after joining Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) to fight against militants of the Islamic State group (IS/ISIS) in Syria.
Reese Harding died during clashes against IS radicals in northeastern Syria.
His father told reporters in Sydney: “I had received a phone call saying my son was killed during one of the battles waged by Kurdish forces against IS militants on Saturday, after he stepped on a land mine in a night-time combat operation.”
The 23-year-old man had traveled to Syria in March 2015, telling his family he intends to do humanitarian work in the Middle East, “but he immediately joined the YPG forces to fight against terrorists of Daesh (ISIS),” a YPG-linked source told ARA News.
“We feared he was somehow involved in the region’s conflict,” said Keith Harding, Harding’s father.
Members of the ‘Lions of Rojava’, a group of Western fighters who joined Syrian Kurds to fight ISIS, reported that five other YPG fighters were injured during the operation in which Harding died.
“He is the second Australian Lion who have his life so that the people of Rojava (Syrian Kurdish areas) can live,” the group reported.
“Everybody in Harding’s unit praised him for his courage and said that he was hard to match. A man who stood up for his beliefs and therefore joined the fight with the brave warriors of the YPG.”
One of his comrades commented: “He turned to me before going into the fight and bumped fist as if to say we are in this together.”
Harding was killed and five others were injured when the YPG was engaged in fierce battles on the outskirts of Hassakah after ISIS launched an assault on the city.
The Syrian northeastern province of Hassakah is split between the control of the Syrian regime and Kurdish forces, with a mixed population of Arabs, Kurds and Christians.
To his Kurdish colleagues he was known as Heval Bagok Australi. His unit vowed to revenge his death, with another Australian reportedly fighting with the YPG, Ashley Dyball, or Heval Ahmed, quoted by the Lions of Rojava as saying: “I have his sawn off shotgun and will use it to take revenge for him.”
The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, told reporters: “Obviously, there’s a moral difference between fighting for radical Islamists and fighting for those who are doing their best to defend their areas. Nevertheless, this is a very dangerous place and Australians shouldn’t go there.”
“As far as the government is concerned, we are doing our best to stop people leaving this country to fight for terrorist armies in the Middle East. If people do leave the country to fight for terrorist armies in the Middle East, we don’t want them back.”
“And if they do come back, we want to lock them up for as long as is needed to keep our community safe,” he concluded.
Reese Harding is the second Australian to die fighting with the YPG forces in Syria. Ashley Johnston, another Australian fighter, was killed in the battle between the YPG and ISIS in the city of Tel Hamis near the Syria-Iraq border on February 24.
Reporting by: Mustafa Hamed, Egid Yousef
Source: ARA News