A US military veteran reports that it was extremely easy for him to leave America and fight in the Syrian Civil War as a civilian combatant. In an interview with Fox News, the veteran, who asked to be identified only as “John”, said, “I just went online and bought a ticket. It was that easy. It was like booking a flight to Miami Beach.”
He started his research on Facebook. John contacted a Kurdish group known as YPG and expressed his interest in joining the fight. He was quickly vetted after sending them his military credentials.
“What I believe is that they are European go-betweens, they are not in Kurdistan, they operate receiving information of interested Westerners, and then they either related or make a decision themselves of whether or not this person is suitable to work with the YPG…they sent (a) message saying I was approved and someone would be waiting on me.”
Upon his arrival in Iraq, John was very quickly taken to the front lines of the fighting, where the Islamic State is among the many factions are battling for control of war-torn Syria. He says there is no training whatsoever. Some recruits had never even handled a gun before. John says that he stuffed a Bible inside of his vest because there was no body armor provided.
“It’s extremely dangerous, in that they’re taking anyone with no military experience, no age requirements, no physical restrictions. They are just taking people there, giving them a gun saying, ‘Hey, good luck, buddy.’”
Underscoring how simple it is for Westerners to join this fight, John said that on the day he joined, he met others from Scotland, Canada, America, and Great Britain.
“So that was kind of refreshing, to see that I’m not the only one. And it helped affirm to me, hey, I actually am with the good guys.”
The legality of John’s actions is unclear. The US military backs Kurdish operations against the Islamic State, but the State Department discourages US citizens from becoming directly involved.
During a December State Department briefing, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “It’s certainly something we’ve spoken out against and are opposed to.”
The Supreme Court has ruled that it is not against the law for a United States citizen to go overseas to join a foreign army that is not fighting against America. However, if that recruitment was made inside the United States, that may be a violation of law.
When the fighting was over, John turned himself into the US Consulate in Iraq. He has some regrets, and mentions that his own story may be a cautionary tale.
“The amount of trouble I could be in is, you know, still up in the air. It’s a legal gray area, what I did.”