Family, friends share memories of American volunteer killed in Syria

Klipsch was one of hundreds of foreign volunteers who went to help in the fight against Islamic State. Since 2014, dozens of such fighters have been killed fighting alongside the Kurdish YPG.

By
March 15, 2018 15:46
4 minute read.
Kurdish fighters

Fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in training at a military camp in Ras al-Ain, February 13. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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“I see the road home. Know how to get there. Who to appeal to. I also see the other road. Road Jake. Where I won’t leave this place till I’ve shed more blood for it. Maybe my last drop,” wrote Jake Klipsch on Facebook on December 26, 2017. Klipsch was killed in Syria, his family announced.

He was known by the Kurdish nickname “Delil” among the Kurdish People’s Protection Units with whom he had volunteered.

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“It is with great sadness that we are announcing that our beloved father, son, brother, nephew, cousin and best friend has passed away in Syria,” the family wrote in a post on Wednesday. “Please keep our family in your thoughts and prayers as we work through this difficult time.” They are still awaiting details and additional information about how Klipsch was killed.

Klipsch was one of hundreds of foreign volunteers who went to help in the fight against Islamic State. Since 2014, dozens of such fighters have been killed fighting alongside the Kurdish YPG and in other volunteer units in Syria and Iraq. At least nine have been killed over the last three years. The condolences for Klipsch have poured in on Facebook. “Sehid Namirin” [martyrs never die] wrote his Kurdish friends, and “till Valhalla,” write his foreign comrades to memorialize him.

The family of the slain American is still searching for answers. They had not heard from him since January 3, and after gaining access to his Facebook account, saw that he had not logged in recently. “Several messages were read on January 16, but as far as we can tell there were not any that were responded to. That was the last point of contact that anyone has seemed to have with him.”

KLIPSCH WROTE on December 29 that he was “in transit” and not sure where he was heading next. “Come to think of it, not positive where I’m at, other than in Tabqa somewhere.” Tabqa is a Syrian city on the Euphrates that was liberated from ISIS by the Syrian Democratic Forces, including elements of the YPG, in the summer of 2017. “I won’t believe Trump has had much special to do with the impending defeat of Daesh [ISIS] until I see him on a shahid [martyr] poster,” he wrote.

The martyr posters are those the YPG puts up for their numerous casualties suffered fighting ISIS over the years. Klipsch said there were many such martyrs, “known and unknown” and that those who had the right to claim they defeated ISIS were those who “gave the last full measure.”

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Some surmised that he had gone to fight in Afrin where Kurdish forces have been fighting the Turkish Army and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels since January 20, when Turkey launched a major operation against the YPG. Several foreign volunteers have been killed fighting in Afrin out of a dozen or so that went to aid their comrades. Iceland activist Haukur Hilmarsson’s death was announced in early March, even though he was killed in late February. He was 32.

Samuel Prada Leon from Spain and Oliver Francois Jean Le Clainche from France were also killed on February 10. Live UA Map, a crowd-sourced mapping site that maintains updates on the Syrian civil war, posted that Klipsch was killed northwest of Afrin on March 14. However it’s unclear how they confirmed that. Sources familiar with the situation in northern Syria and the YPG both say that this claim is inaccurate.

DESPITE SEVERAL inquiries to sources close to the YPG, residents of Afrin and others, the final details about Klipsch’s whereabouts and death are still unclear.

It appears that Klipsch had allowed a friend to post an article about Afrin on his webpage as late as February 5. The article from Defenseone.com called on the international community to “stop Turkey’s bombardment of our people.” Written by Aldar Khalil, a Syrian Kurdish politician and co-chairman of the Democratic Society Movement, it said Turkey’s offensive into Syria was a violation of international law.

Friends and family of Klipsch say they have now reached out to the FBI, State Department and the office of Sen. Todd Young of Indiana, where Klipsch was a resident. His Facebook page says he attended Lincoln High School in Vincennes.

Klipsch was no stranger to combat. In August 2016, he was in battle near Manbij with several other foreign volunteers. Among them were a former grocery store worker from Georgia; Colorado resident Jordan MacTaggert; Utah journalist Freeman Stevenson; and Firaz Kardo, a Kurdish volunteer from Sweden. According to Denver’s 5280 magazine, the men helped liberate the city.

At one point they found themselves on the roof of a building. “MacTaggart and Klipsch went onto the roof to watch air strikes descend on the city. They hooted and pumped their fists as smart bombs exploded like fireworks around them, showering the men in dust and debris.”

Klipsch carried a heavy 16-lb. PKM machine gun. MacTaggart was killed in the battle soon after. His body did not arrive back in Colorado for more than a month. According to the article, his body was brought back to the US alongside the bodies of Levy Shirley and William Savage, two other volunteers who were also killed in battle.

When UK volunteer Ryan Lock was killed in the battle of Raqqa in December 2016, Klipsch wrote this short note in his memory on Facebook: “Ryan, even though I only knew you for a short time, you’ll always be the guy that was hit by a Turkish air strike but still carried on. One of Rojava’s bravest sons. Til Valhala, Sahid namirin.”

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