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23 Nov, 2014 14:46

Int'l anti-ISIS brigade: Westerners flock to fight for Kurds

Int'l anti-ISIS brigade: Westerners flock to fight for Kurds

People from the US, Canada, the UK, Germany and other western nations are fighting in Syria and Iraq, where Islamic State militants want to create a state of their own. But they're not jihadists – they're going into battle on the side of the Kurds.

The latest report about western volunteers, many of them with military backgrounds, comes from the UK. James Hughes, a former British infantryman with three tours in Afghanistan, has joined the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, the YPG, to fight against the Islamists.

His friend Jamie Read, a French army-trained soldier, is with Hughes, according to a report in the UK's Observer newspaper. Both were apparently recruited by an American called Jordan Matson on behalf of the “Lions of Rojava”, an YPG media outlet.

Hughes and Read are among many westerners, who have gone to the turbulent Middle East region to join the fight against the IS, formerly known as ISIS, and Kurdish militias.

There are Americans Jordan Matson, an early US Army discharge, and Jeremy Woodard, an Army veteran with tours to Afghanistan and Iraq. A group of six unidentified Canadian special forces veterans reportedly fighting for Iraqi Kurds Peshmerga. And Gill Rosenberg, a Canadian-Israeli woman credited to be the first westerner to join YPG’s female squads.

Wisconsin high school graduate Jordan Matson reportedly went to Syria to join the Kurds. Photo from facebook.com/jordan.matson.3

There are two biker gangs, one from the Netherlands and another one from Germany, which sent some of their members to join Kurds, An Qassim Shesho, a German of Kurdish dissent who took his son Yassir Qassim Khalaf and left peaceful Europe to help his fellow Kurds in Syria, and many others.

Flashpoints across the globe tend to lure foreign fighters, and the Iraqi-Syrian turmoil is no different. Motivations for making a war in a foreign land your own may vary greatly. Some feel it their duty to risk their lives for a just cause. Some feel the conflict is not foreign to them at all, as is the case for Kurds from Turkey or Europe or America going to Syria.

There are also thrill seekers going into the fray for the adrenaline rush and a chance to kill or be killed without a jail term as a consequence. There are also professional wild geese, taking pay checks for "wet work."

Unlike hundreds of people from western countries who are taking part in the conflict on the side of the IS, westerners allied with Kurds are not risking repercussions at home. Western governments discourage their citizens from joining the fight, but indicate that they would avoid prosecuting them for fighting against ISIS.

UK PM David Cameron, whose government has inked new anti-terrorist laws that would allow the revocation of citizenship from British jihadists returning from Syria, said there was a “fundamental difference” between them and those fighting for the Kurds, and pledged that the British border staff would be able to tell one from the other.

Canadian-Israeli Gill Rosenberg is reportedly the first westerner to join Kurdish female-only militia units. Photo from facebook.com

“UK law makes provisions to deal with different conflicts in different ways – fighting in a foreign war is not automatically an offence but will depend on the nature of the conflict and the individual’s own activities,” the Home Office said in a statement.

Dutch prosecutors warned their fellow citizens, including the biker gang, that “'Joining a foreign armed force was previously punishable, now it's no longer forbidden. You just can't join a fight against the Netherlands.”

The latter may be somewhat tricky, since the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK, which is involved in fighting against ISIS in Syria, is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey, where it has been fighting for independence of Kurds for decades, and some western nations, including the Netherlands.

Apparently, when it comes to foreign fighters in various conflicts, these governments prefer a realpolitik approach. For instance, Russian volunteers going to Ukraine to assist the local militias in battles against Kiev’s troops shelling Donetsk and Lugansk are considered a form of a military invasion on the orders of the Russian government. But Americans and Britons fighting in Syria against the enemy of their governments are not.

READ MORE: British elite unit carrying out secret missions in Iraq, hundreds of ISIS militants killed

The US-led coalition maintains that it would not have boots on the ground in Syria or Iraq doing combat missions. At least not officially. According to a Daily Mail report, British SAS have been ambushing IS fighters in Iraq for at least a month – killing as many as 200 in the operations.