East Front of Raqqa, August 23d 2017
Follow-up of the previous post.
In the night of may 27th we left our defensive comfort, in a village of the surroundings of Mansoura, in order to get ready for a night operation.
Several dozens of militiamen and -women gathered at the lower end of the village for a briefing, and this was when I understood that the operation we were talking about was nothing less than the assault of Mansoura. And my group was the first one to enter the city.
This was certainly the best opportunity to gain valuable military experience, but I was also struck by a sudden fear… would I be able to carry out this mission? Or would I break down and run away? I had hardly any time to give a thought to such questions. As if I was at the top of a roller coaster, I could see the fall getting closer and there was no way to escape it. Our group started to move towards Mansoura.
In a single file we crossed the fields in the direction of the buildings I had been observing in the afternoon of this same day. We seemed particularly vulnerable at night, exposed by the moonlight, but again, I appeared to be the only one to worry about this. The other comrades? They seemed to be on a touristic hike.
Fumbling from building to building
After ten minutes, we had reached the enclosure wall of the city. After fearing the machine guns, I now was anxious about mines or other traps Daesh was an expert of. Inside the city: ruins, an atmosphere as in Fallout, the famous post-apocalyptic video game. We spread out. Fumbling from building to building, each door, every dark corner or tiny pile of rubble could hide a sniper or some explosive device.
My biggest fear was not to react quickly enough to an order, given my poor knowledge of the Kurdish language. In keeping with the video games metaphor, I had the impression of starting a new game at the highest level of difficulty, without the possibility to change the options or to try again in case I failed.
The factory, which turned out to be totally empty, was just the first step of the operation. The first housing blocks of Mansoura are at 500 or 600 meters from this point. Our next target: a building several floors high, still under construction, which would provide a good point of support to gain control over the city.
I understood that I would be guarding the bottom of the building, alone…
Again, we were advancing quickly, uncovered. And again, I was feeling this fear of mines and snipers, that had taken grip of my stomach. All of sudden, the darkness of the night was torn by lightnings: the city was being bombed. The building we were heading to now became visible in the bright flashes of the explosions.
It was time to get inside. I grew heavy hearted, thinking: here we are, let’s get it started. Kneeling on one knee, holding the Kalashnikov to be ready to shoot, squinting the eyes in order to see the tiniest movement around me, I was giving cover to the comrades who were entering the building. From the outside we could see their advancement from one room to the next by following the lights of their torches that were shining through the windows.
A few minutes later we received the signal meaning that we should join them inside. Most of the hevals (comrades) went up to the roof, but not me. The head of the unit had placed me at the first floor. I understood that I would be guarding the bottom of the building, alone…
What to do? Shoot?
A staircase under construction, in nearly complete darkness, growing stress, tiredness, the weight of the heavy equipment that sours. Outside, in the night: shadows, nothing but shadows here and there, each more threatening than the one before.
At one moment which seemed endless, the silhouettes started to move. About hundred meters away from me, within my visual field. Friends or enemies? Nobody had told me anything, and these shadows were following our path.
What should I do? Shoot, and risk to hurt a comrade? Or let them get closer in order to recognise their uniforms, but taking the risk to get shot at? Luckily, before I could take a wrong decision, my head of unit came running down the stairs to tell me that I definitely should not shoot.
This had been a tight timing. The shadows were actually another tabûr joining us, and little by little I recognized the befriended faces. Big relief. And less stress for the two or three units that followed us.
When I was relieved from my position, I dragged myself up to the roof, looked for a little corner that offered some protection from the wind, closed my eyes, hoping to find some rest… at that moment, we received the order to move on.