Sunday 18 August 2019

'ISIS don’t care about anyone'- Irish man speaks about travelling to Syria to fight terrorist group

Ian Begley

Ian Begley

A Waterford man, who left his family in secret to fight against ISIS in Syria, has opened up about his perilous experience for the first time. 

Morgan Mansfield (28) from the Waterford Gaeltacht area of An Seanphobal was interviewed on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta today about fighting for the Kurds against the Islamic State. 

Mr Mansfield explained that he decided to leave for the Middle East in May 2017. 

“I was serious about it from January, and stopped drinking and started boxing to get fit,” he said.

“I went over in May.  You go initially to a city called Sulaymaniyah in Iraq ... I was in a hotel the first night, then the next day I went to a safe house.”

The Waterford native added that he didn’t tell his family where he had gone.

“Initially when I was leaving, I said I was going to Germany.  Then, when I was in Syria, I told them I was in Greece helping with refugees.  I didn’t want them to be worried.”

After spending a fortnight in Sulaymaniyah, Mr Mansfield was brought across the border into Syria, where his military training had begun. 

“All the arms were Russian.  My Kalashnikov was from 1970, almost 50 years old, but it was working great.

“You have to use a Kalashnikov when you’re fighting.  ISIS don’t care about anyone.  You don’t get a second chance with them; you have to take the chance yourself.

“The first rough battle I was in, one man almost died.  He was very lucky.  He got a bullet in through his stomach and out the other side.”

The young man added that he had always wanted to join the army, but had little experience with guns besides using a shotgun to scare crows in Waterford. 

He was stationed with his unit in the dessert outside Raqqa, and then in the city of Manbij where he trained as a paramedic.

“On the front lines of the city there were casualty points for people that needed to be sent to hospital. 

“If you could stop the bleeding, they’d have a good chance.  If they got a bullet in the lungs, there was a special piece of plastic ... so if you do those two things you could help.  You didn’t have to be a professional paramedic.”   Mr Mansfield’s unit then moved north to a rural area called Afrin, which was under attack by forces from Turkey.  

He said he saw terrible things there, including the bombing of a family trying to flee.

“There was a family driving down the road... A plane tried to do an airstrike on their car. The children were all hurt, but they didn’t die.  They were all very upset.  It’s not nice to see that.”

“I lost friends over there, but you can’t cry over it, you just have to keep going.”

The farmer-turned soldier added that community spirit seemed much stronger among the Kurds than it was at home. 

“They’re country people, farmers; they take things in their stride.  They’re not poor, they have good houses.  The community is not as strong here.  Rural life in Ireland is not as strong as it once was.”

The 28-year-old returned home in summer 2018 and has completed a Higher Diploma in Television and Media in the Waterford Gaeltacht.

A film about his experience will be shown in the SGC cinema in Dungarvan on Wednesday, May 15. 

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