Hanna Bohman has been fighting the Islamic State in Syria on and off for most of 2015, and she hasn’t been impressed.
She said that as fighters, ISIS militants have “mostly been a disappointment.”
“Their numbers don’t seem that big and they’re eager to run away,” she told INSIDER in an email. “I suspect most of the experienced fighters have been consolidated in Mosul and Raqqa, and that’s where the big fights will be.
She said that ISIS has successfully made themselves seem bigger and scarier than they are in reality through social media.
Although the group recently claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks that killed hundreds in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Ankara, and over the Sinai Peninsula, its promise of statehood is quickly diminishing, the New York Times reports.
“They’re not some giant, holy juggernaut of ultimate damnation for unbelievers,” she said. “They’re just a bunch of filthy, mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging pigs who run away at the first sign of resistance. Really nothing more than a thorn in the side.”
Video editing by Adam Banicki
A former Canadian model that’s also known as Tiger Sun, Bohman, 46, is one of dozens of westerners who have joined up with Kurdish nationalist groups to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. She was personally inspired to fight after watching an ISIS propaganda video featuring a Canadian who had gone to fight with the jihadists, she told the Daily Mail.
After recovering from a near-fatal motorcycle accident last year, Bohman, who had no prior combat experience, left Vancouver for Iraq in March. She joined up with the YPJ, the female fighting battalion of the People’s Protection Unit, a Kurdish nationalist fighting force.
Joining the YPJ was easy, she said, much easier than one would expect travelling from the west into the middle of war would be. Upon arriving in Iraq, she stayed in a safe house for a few days before taking a boat across the Tigris River into northeastern Syria.
She then received very brief training, and was assigned to her first unit, though it didn’t see much action. Her role consisted mostly of watching over territory, and the only real threat was being the target of a suicide truck, according to Bohman. But once she transferred to a more experienced unit, she began to see fighting almost instantly.
“That’s where I was first shot at by a sniper while walking from the outhouse to our quarters,” she said. “We were a mobile [unit], so we moved around quite a bit and were part of a large offensive south of Til Temir.”
The most intense fighting she experienced was in the next unit she was a part of, albeit for a brief two days in June. Just one hour after joining up with the brigade, a German who was fighting with the group said they would be going to the front.
“It was a small group of six westerners and I was the only woman… but all of us, including the commander, were itching for a fight, so we went a bit rogue,” she said. “We became lost trying to find the front and thought we had accidentally pushed into Daesh country (another name for ISIS) when we started seeing dead people lying on the roads. The drivers were frantically calling for help on their phones and radios, and the tension was the highest I’ve ever felt as we had no idea where Daesh was.”
The group made a “mad retreat” to get their bearings. The following morning, the six were ordered to take the city of Til Abyad, a northern Syrian city near the Turkish border that had been under the control of ISIS. Bohman, who posts videos of her endeavours with the YPJ on YouTube, uploaded a video prior to the start of the mission.
She laughed at how absurd it seemed.
“Six of us against what was supposed to be more than 100 Daesh, but nonetheless, we jumped into a tank and off we went,” she said.
As they closed in on the battle, her unit met up with 12 Kurds who were already in position near a bridge leading into the city.
The Kurds would have to take that bridge in order to take the city.
“We spent the rest of the day fighting for that bridge, which was also the last time a sniper would take a shot at me, the bullet passing so close over my head I felt it,” she said. “We held the bridge over night while reinforcements arrived, and the next day they took the city, which by now had mostly been abandoned by Daesh.”
She briefly returned to Canada after the battle, stricken by malnutrition after having lost almost 30 pounds since joining the YPJ. But almost as soon as she returned to Vancouver, she was itching to get back to the fight in Rojava, the name given to what is considered Western Kurdistan. She went back in early September and remains with the YPJ today.
However, contrary to popular belief, life in Syria isn’t all about fighting, she explained. About “95%” of her time is spent sleeping, eating, cleaning, socialising, or being on-guard.
“It’s not what people expect,” she said. “We’re not constantly locked in a life or death battle with bullets and mortars flying back and forth.”
Another misconception is that the real fight is against ISIS, she said.
“The real enemy is who Daesh works for,” she said, claiming that it’s really “Turkey’s genocidal [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan… who will eventually turn Turkey into a dictatorship while trying to kill off the Kurds.”
Claims that Turkey supported the Islamic State go back more than a year, and it’s well-known that the Turkish government views the rise of Kurdish nationalism as a bigger threat to its security than the rise of ISIS.
After the Turkish military shot down a Russian plane last week, Russian leaders claimed they have proof Erdogan’s own family was involved in smuggling ISIS oil into Turkey. Erdogan said he would resign if that claim was proven true, and insists his regime is working to diminish the threat of ISIS in the region. US officials said their NATO allies have been “great” in the fight against the Islamic State.
According to Bohman, westerners who left their countries and bypassed their governments to fight ISIS are what has inspired her most since joining the YPJ.
“There aren’t many of us, but we represent a genuine concern for humanity,” she said. “We believe in doing the right thing, in stopping evil, and helping the helpless. We are the tip of a sword made up of people from all around the world who will no longer wait for their governments to fail again. We are [bringing] the change we want to see.”
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