TAL KHANZIR, SYRIA - Fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units have been holding out against an Islamic State militant onslaught on villages across northeastern Syria. A major offensive began Tuesday, with IS fighters bent on regaining momentum after a series of territorial losses.
In Tal Khanzir, 30 kilometers (more than 18 miles) west of Ras al-Ayn, the People's Protection Units, known as YPG, take cover at the sound of incoming IS fire. The Kurdish fighters, including members of the female fighting units, the YPJ, are outnumbered and underequipped; they have a few heavy guns and some rifles, but no helmets or flak jackets.
Beyond this sandbagged position, Islamic State forces control much of the countryside, their tanks and explosives-packed vehicles moving on village after village in the region.
Two foreigners have joined the fight. They appear to be Westerners, native-English speakers, whether attracted to the Kurdish cause, the anti-IS fight or both is not clear.
Until recently, such foreign volunteers, known as the Lions of Rojava — for the Syrian territory largely under Kurdish control — were confined to the background. In the past few weeks they've taken up front-line positions. At least two, a Briton and an Australian, have been killed.
There are reports of dozens of casualties in this latest round of fighting between the YPG and the Islamic State group. The key border town of Ras al-Ayn, known by Kurds as Serekaniye, is under attack as well.
The IS offensive is a reversal of fortunes for the Kurdish side. Morale was high earlier this year following the Kurdish ouster of militants from Kobani, a conquest aided by coalition airstrikes. Celebrations broke out late last month when Kurdish forces retook Tal Hamis, an IS stronghold.
Now, Tal Hamis is back under attack, as are other villages around Serekaniye: al-Houl, Tal Barak and Tal Tamir.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Tal Khanzir fell to Islamic State control Wednesday, but local commanders later in the day told VOA Kurdish that the fight was continuing.