American and other Western volunteers fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria recently told the Kurdish outlet Rudaw they were gearing up for a new offensive against the jihadists in the new year. One American volunteer recalled how thousands demanded photos with him on a routine visit to a mall in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
In a series of interviews with volunteers working alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Iraq, Rudaw found a number of Americans eager to fight the Islamic State with arguably the most effective military group against ISIS. “We’re happy to be working out here,” a woman who identifies herself as American tells the camera, noting that she is working with a medical team. A man who identifies himself as Kim tells the camera in French that he left his native country to fight the Islamic State, wishing viewers a happy new year.
“I am Michael from the United States. … I’m very happy to be here with my brothers in the Peshmerga,” says another volunteer, wishing viewers “peace on earth.”
Rudaw found another American volunteer among the Peshmerga, John Cole of Charlotte, North Carolina, who amusingly recalled how he recently needed to leave the battlefield to visit a mall in the Iraqi Kurdish capital, Erbil, only to find that everyone who identified him as an American volunteer fighter wanted a photo with him. “When I was in Erbil, I went to the family mall. … Almost every person in the mall wanted a photo … probably about 2,000 people,” he recalls.” He tells Rudaw, “It’s great. I love it here,” noting that his colleagues on the battlefield are “all hardened combat veterans who [he] can depend on in battle.”
American volunteers – who are not working with the U.S. military but, rather, independently participating in the anti-Islamic State resistance on behalf of the Kurds – have become increasingly prominent on the ground in Syria and Iraq. The Army Times today tells the particular story of a female Army veteran known as “Kat Argo” who has founded the dual medical-military group Qalubna Ma’Kum, which means “Our Hearts Are with You.” Argo, who served in Afghanistan and later worked in a civilian capacity there, tells the Army Times, “I feel like I’m more effective here than when I was in the military.” She notes she has put together a “dream team,” including American veterans, who are working to both fight the Islamic State and rescue civilians and wounded fighters from areas humanitarian aid organizations cannot reach. “We also go to places in the area the U.S. military may not consider a payoff, but we think going to them is important. It’s enough for others to trust us and cooperate with us,” she notes.
The group has opened an online donation account to pay for medical supplies and weapons.
Online crowdfunding websites like Go Fund Me and IndieGoGo have become pivotal for Western veterans who are looking to travel to Iraq and Syria permanently to join Kurdish forces and defend religious minorities from the Islamic State. “I sold my car to raise money for the plane ticket, and once I had booked my one-way flight, I posted this news that I’d soon be leaving and was well-short of the funds I’d need to get here and back (in one piece at least),” John Gallagher, a Canadian veteran, told Breitbart News last year. “My friends took notice. My veteran friends were the most helpful by far, donating and sharing.”
Syrian Kurdish groups, like the People’s Protection Unit militia (YPG/YPJ), encourage volunteers and have even set up a volunteer page on Facebook to help those who wish to travel to Kurdistan. The Iraqi Peshmerga have rejected a much higher number of volunteers, noting that they cannot guarantee the safety of a volunteer with no military experience. They have accepted veterans of the American military, however, and other state armies.
Only one American volunteer is known to have died in the fight against ISIS: Keith Broomfield, who fought alongside the YPG and was buried as a Kurdish martyr in June 2015. The Kurds, he said, “stood by the United States for 10 years while my country was in Iraq,” and he joined them on the battlefield “to repay that debt.”