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American Volunteer Killed While Battling IS in Syria


FILE - American volunteer William Savage is pictured during a training session with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. (Photo courtesy of the YPG Media Center)

FILE - American volunteer William Savage is pictured during a training session with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. (Photo courtesy of the YPG Media Center)

Reginald Savage had an uneasy feeling when he last contacted his American son fighting alongside Kurdish forces against the Islamic State in Syria.

"I then knew that I wasn't going to see him again," the father said of his last email exchange in late July with William Savage, who was on the frontlines in northern Syria.

Kurdish forces announced late Wednesday that Savage, 27, a native of Maryland and North Carolina, was killed last week in Syria during clashes between U.S.-backed forces and IS fighters in the city of Manbij. He was the sixth foreign volunteer, and the second American, to die fighting with the Kurds against IS.

FILE - Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters greet civilians who were evacuated by the SDF from an Islamic State-controlled neighborhood of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, Aug. 12, 2016.

FILE - Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters greet civilians who were evacuated by the SDF from an Islamic State-controlled neighborhood of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, Aug. 12, 2016.

Volunteers like Savage normally receive only food and lodging in return for their service. He was helping civilians flee from the battle as a Kurdish-Arab alliance advanced on Islamic State fighters, the People's Protection Units (YPG) said in a statement.

'Targeted by IS'

Savage "was targeted by the gunfire of the thugs" from the Islamic State group, according to the Kurdish-language statement released Wednesday. It said the young American died "suffering from severe wounds."

The Kurdish YPG is a key element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has U.S. backing in its fight against IS militants in northern Syria.

Manbij was cleared of IS fighters last week, two days after Savage's death. The 73-day-long battle left more than 4,000 IS fighters and 264 U.S.-backed fighters dead.

Joining the YPG in January of 2015, Savage was one of dozens of American citizens who have volunteered to serve with the Kurdish group. He was known by his Kurdish nom de guerre, Amed Kobani.

"He was fearless," said Savage's father, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. "He wanted to help the Kurds."

FILE - A woman embraces a Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter after she was evacuated with others by the SDF from an Islamic State-controlled neighborhood of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, Aug. 12, 2016.

FILE - A woman embraces a Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter after she was evacuated with others by the SDF from an Islamic State-controlled neighborhood of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria, Aug. 12, 2016.

William Savage, born in Saint Mary's City, Maryland, in 1989, had said he was leaving the U.S. to study in Greece, his father said, "because he didn't want me to worry about him."

No military experience

"I couldn't object to his wish to help those people," Reginald Savage said. "But I didn't know he was going to Syria."

William Savage, the eldest of four children, worked as a cook at a hotel restaurant in Raleigh. His father said the young man had no prior military experience before joining the YPG.

"His dream was to join the U.S. military," the elder Savage said. "But he was denied admission because [of] a seizure he had when he was five years old."

Reginald Savage, who owns a chocolate company in Raleigh, said his son nonetheless wanted to participate in the war against IS.

FILE - Fighters of the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) stand inside a building near Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria on June 17, 2016.

FILE - Fighters of the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) stand inside a building near Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria on June 17, 2016.

A Kurdish commander who broke the news of William Savage's death to his father said the son was one of the fastest-learning recruits the YPG had seen.

‘The best of the U.S.'

Macer Gifford, a British volunteer who also fought in the battle for Manbij, said in a Facebook post that Savage was a good soldier.

"He represented the best of the foreign volunteers, but also of the United States," Gifford told VOA, praising his fallen colleague. "There is nobody that has a bad word to say about Will. He was universally loved and everyone has a wonderful story about him."

William Savage's father told VOA he has asked the U.S. Department of State to help retrieve his son's body from a hospital on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Savage's mother, Nancy, died in 2000. She had volunteered as a young woman to help American troops in Vietnam, Reginald Savage said.

"William got his character of helping others from his mother," he said.

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