THE bullet on the front of Idris Kobane's battle fatigues was a chilling reminder of the stakes at play as he and his fellow fighters prepared to make their last stand.
The brass 7.62mm cartridge was intended not for use against the enemy but on Mr Kobane himself, as a final shot to take his own life if the Islamic State jihadists currently surrounding his town finally overrun it. "We won't leave our town until the last drop of blood," he said, standing with a semi-automatic weapon slung over his shoulder next to his four-year-old son, Mohammed.
"We will stay and fight until death or until victory. But I say to the world and countries like America and Britain, we need your help. We need heavy weapons. If you know the meaning of humanity, look at what's happening in Kobane, where so many civilians have been forced to leave."
For the past few weeks, the farming settlement where he lives in northern Syria, also called Kobane, has been on the brink of falling to the jihadists, who have in the past beheaded his comrades when they have been captured during battle. Now defended only by a few lightly-armed volunteers, it is typical of the towns crying out for Western air strikes. The mainly Kurdish town, which lies just inside the Syrian border, is one of dozens now on high alert after a major offensive by Islamic State fighters in recent weeks. That, and the accompanying tales of atrocities, prompted a mass flight of around 140,000 Kurdish refugees across the border to Turkey.
Among these were many of Kobane's own residents, leaving the town inhabited by only by a minority of volunteers against a vastly better-armed Islamic State army. Mr Kobane, 42, a construction worker who sports a glass eye, has been joined by other equally unlikely fighters, including a lawyer recently released from Isil detention after being beaten with electric cables, and Mohammed Hanif Osman, an elderly neighbourhood watchman.
The town itself appears ripe for the taking, with shuttered shops, abandoned homes and largely empty streets. Residents fear that it could become "another Shingal", the Yezidi town in northern Iraq where up to 5,000 people were killed after it was overrun by the Islamic State last month.
Yet remaining inhabitants are not completely abandoned. Joining them last Friday were fighters with Turkey's Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is outlawed as a terrorist group in Turkey, who said they were armed to combat the jihadists.
"Inshallah, we will support them and we will confront Isil until we have victory," said Shekmus Ahmad, 42, who described himself as a PKK fighter from Diyarbakir in Turkey. He added that 4,000 volunteers were crossing the border to fight. Late on Saturday, the town's prayers finally appeared to be answered, as a salvo of US air strikes hit distant Islamist positions in the nearby villages of Marj Esmael and Alishar, less than five miles from Kobane.
But as night fell, the American strikes appeared to have had little effect as Islamic State forces continued to pound the Kurdish positions with mortar shells, which shook the earth nearly a mile away across the Turkish border. Plumes of white smoke rose above the areas where the heavy artillery had fallen, and the smell of gunpowder hung in the air. In reply, the Kurdish forces offered only rifle fire, interspersed with occasional machine-gun shots.
Some residents said they were determined to stay with or without outside help. "It's our motherland and we won't leave it for any reason, even for sil," said Waheed Asaid Ahmed, 35, sitting outside her home with her five children. "We will hold out. The blood of our martyrs is no better than ours."
(© Daily telegraph, London)