As the battle against ISIS continues to rage, the various Kurdish militia groups have proven to be the most effective ground force at stemming the militant tide.
Seeking to turn back the jihadists, a small but growing number of US veterans have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the fight, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Two US veterans that the WSJ identified who fought in Syria and returned are former Army Ranger Bruce Windorski and Marine combat veteran Jamie Lane.
Although Windorski, 40, and Lane, 29, had different reasons for joining the fight against ISIS, they followed a similar route to the front lines.
Both veterans flew into Sulaymaniyah, Iraq via Turkey. Once in Sulaymaniyah, the two veterans met with members of the Kurdish YPG which drove them through Iraqi Kurdistan to a Kurdish military training camp in northern Syria. The YPG, more than any other Kurdish faction, has successfully managed to court foreign fighters for their operations against ISIS.
“The quickest route to the front lines is the YPG, which has drivers in Iraq ready to pick up Westerners,” the WSJ notes.
“Its Lions of Rojava Facebook page, named after a Kurdish region the fighters are trying to claim, appeals: ‘Welcome to our Family Brothers and Sisters. Join YPG…and send ISIS terrorists to Hell and save Humanity.'”
After a brief stint in a military training camp, the YPG proceeded to move Lane and Windorski — along with other foreign fighters from Greece, England, Australia, and France — to the front lines. Before combat, the YPG allowed the fighters to choose their own weapons and ammunition. Although, the WSJ noted that there was a lack of body armor available to any fighters in the organization.
This general makeshift approach to supplies among the YPG was also apparent in the structure of the YPG forces itself. US citizens can fight alongside the YPG as the US government has not designated it terrorist or enemy organization. However, the YPG’s sister organization, the PKK, is a designated terrorist organization and US citizens who fight alongside the PKK can have legal action brought against them upon return to the US.
This legal distinction by the US of the two organizations poses challenges for US citizens fighting in Syria against ISIS.
“There often seemed little to distinguish the ‘terrorist’ PKK and America’s YPG friends, Westerners who fought alongside the Kurds say,” the WSJ notes. “PKK militants would become YPG fighters by changing fatigues.”
Ultimately, after arming and training, Windorski and Lane engaged in a night long battle against ISIS. The two barely survived the encounter and both soon after returned to the US. Although the two took part in the same battle, they differed on their ultimate beliefs about whether US citizens should take it upon themselves to fight ISIS alongside the Kurds.
Whereas Windorsky would encourage willing individuals to join the Kurds, Lane said he would tell others not to go.
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” Lane told the WSJ. “You’re not going to fight ISIS. You’re fighting for the revolution of Rojava.”
Lane’s assessment matches a bitter truth about the YPG on the ground. Although the Kurds have been on a roll pushing back ISIS across swathes of northern Syria, the group has also been accused of seizing non-Kurdish land in an attempt to alter the demography of the area to better suite a future Kurdish state.
Such actions, which the YPG deny, would ultimately only help prolong conflict in the area and could feed into ISIS recruiting strategies.