A British woman who joined an all-female Kurdish fighting unit to take up arms against ISIS has been killed in Syria.
Anna Campbell, from Lewes, East Sussex, was part of a U.S.-backed Kurdish Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) hit by a Turkish missile in the besieged city of Afrin, northern Syria, on March 16, the Guardian reported.
The woman’s death marks the first time a British woman has been killed fighting alongside Kurdish forces in Syria.
A YPJ commander expressed condolences in a statement to the Guardian.
“On behalf of the Women’s Defence Units YPJ, we express our deepest condolences to [her] family and we promise to follow the path she took up. We will represent her in the entirety of our struggles.”
Initially, Cambell joined the Kurdish struggle against ISIS, the paper reported, but later insisted on going to the Afrinis front. The city became a warzone when Turkish forces launched a ground and air assault against Kurdish-held territories on the Syrian side of its borderlands.
It is reported that her Kurdish commanders were reluctant, but Campbell would not take no for an answer.
“They refused at first, but she was adamant, and even dyed her blonde hair black so as to appear less conspicuous as a westerner,” a YPJ source told the Guardian.
“Finally they gave in and let her go.”
Her father Dirk Campbell told the paper, “Anna was very idealistic, very serious, very wholehearted, and wanted to create a better world.”
Reuters cited the man as saying that his daughter “always had this desire wish tendency to protect the vulnerable.”
“She wasn’t fighting when she died, she was engaged in a defensive action against the Turkish Incursion,” Cambell told the Guardian.
He added that he didn’t try to stop his daughter from going off to fight because once she had made her mind up “she was unstoppable.”
On Monday, March 19, about 100 people gathered in the bitter cold at a silent vigil in Lewes to honor Campbell.
Her father told family and friends at the vigil, “I want to know that my daughter did not die for nothing.”
The YPJ unit to which Campbell belonged was the all-female affiliate army of the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The YPG has been Washington’s main ally against ISIS, in a partnership that has infuriated Turkey, which sees the Kurdish force as an extension of a militant group waging a decadeslong insurgency in its own southeast.
It launched the air and ground offensive two months ago against the YPG in Afrin, a campaign it dubbed “Olive Branch.”
Turkish authorities have described the stretch of northern Syria under Kurdish control as a “terror corridor” on the long southern border. YPG officials have said their focus is on guaranteeing legal and constitutional rights for Syrian Kurds.
Reuters reported that in the run-up to the Turkish offensive in Afrin last Saturday, more than 48,000 were reportedly displaced in Afrin, a U.N. aid official in Syria said.
The Turkish military had pushed the YPG militia back from the border and nearly encircled it with advances on the western and eastern flanks of Afrin.
“We can enter Afrin (town) any second. We can give you the good news any minute,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told a Congress of the ruling AK Party.
“Conquest is close. We walk toward that aim,” he said.
Turkish air and artillery strikes rained down last week, driving tens of thousands out of the main town by car and on foot, Reuters reported.
Then, on Sunday, March 18, Turkish forces backed by Syrian rebel groups swept into Afrin on Sunday, raising their flag in the town center and declaring full control after the eight-week military campaign.
More than 200,000 people who fled Afrin were reportedly without shelter or access to food and water in nearby areas, a Syrian Kurdish official from Afrin told Reuters on Monday.
“The people with cars are sleeping in the cars, the people without are sleeping under the trees with their children,” Hevi Mustafa, a top member of the Kurdish civil authority in the Afrin area, told Reuters by phone.
Meanwhile, the United States is “deeply concerned” about events in Afrin, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.
“The United States calls on all relevant actors operating in the northwest, including Turkey, Russia, and the Syrian regime, to provide access for international humanitarian organizations,” the department said in a statement.
Reuters contributed to this report.