After long wait, the remains of three American militiamen killed in Syria will return to the U.S.

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Lakewood, Colo.-, September 14, 2016 | comments

The remains of three Americans who died in Syria after joining a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia to fight the Islamic State are expected to be repatriated Wednesday, members of their families and a congressional source said.

The bodies of Levi Shirley, William Savage and Jordan MacTaggart will arrive on a flight to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, before traveling to their respective home states, said Shirley’s mother, Susan, and Savage’s sister, Brenna. Kurdish groups transported the remains by ground from Syria to Iraq earlier this month, weeks after they were killed in combat against the Islamic State while serving as members of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a ground force aligned with the U.S. military.

Once in the United States, the bodies of the three men will travel by ground until the reach their final resting place, said Ashley Verville, a spokeswoman for Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D.-Colo.), who has assisted the families. The remains of Shirley and MacTaggart will be transported by train to Denver, while Savage will be sent to Raleigh, N.C., where his father lives.

Perlmutter said in a statement Wednesday that though the three men did not serve in the U.S. military, the United States has the responsibility to bring them home and to give the families relief and closure. He offered condolences to each of their families and said he and his office would present a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol to each of them as a sign of respect.

“While much of the process took too long, this situation was unique and extremely complicated,” Perlmutter said. “It took extraordinary measures by many people to get these men from Syria to the U.S. — especially given the ever-changing and dangerous geopolitical dynamics in the Middle East. It seems we are in the final stages of this long and sad situation. I will be relieved when these young men are finally returned home to their families.”

Turkey’s hostile relationship with the Kurds — and its tension with the United States following the July coup attempt — complicated the effort to recover the remains. The body of Keith Broomfield, an American who was killed fighting against the Islamic State in June 2015, was repatriated to the United States through Turkey. But the remains of the other Americans were instead routed hundreds of miles east to avoid crossing the Turkish border.

Shirley, of Arvada, Colo., died just short of his 25th birthday near the northern Syrian city of Manbij after triggering a land mine ambush July 14, his mother said. He had spent the better of the last two years in Syria fighting against the Islamic State, joining the YPG after poor eyesight prevented him from joining the Marine Corps.

Savage, 27, a native of St. Mary’s County in Maryland, was killed Aug. 10 while attempting to evacuate other people from a building that was under shelling by militants near Manbij, family members said. He, too, attempted to join the military but couldn’t enlist because of a history of seizures, his sister said.

MacTaggart, of Castle Rock, Colo., was killed Aug. 3.

State Department officials have said that they were helping the families of the three men recover their remains. But the State Department and other U>S. agencies have declined to offer official condolences, disappointing some of them.

The United States discourages citizens from traveling to Iraq and Syria, including to fight against the Islamic State. Hundreds of Americans are believed to have done so, however. The practice falls in a gray area: The United States regularly prosecutes Americans who try to assist or join the militants, but there are no known cases of citizens being charged for joining the U.S.-backed groups fighting against them.

Content originally published by the Washington Post on September 14th, 2016.
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