Over one hundred American veterans have traveled overseas to aid in the fight against ISIS alongside several different local forces and militias. A report released by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue revealed that more than one in three anti-ISIS volunteers from the West are American veterans. The report has compiled the names of 300 volunteer anti-ISIS fighters that have made their presence known through news agencies and social media accounts.
According to the report the 300 volunteer fighters hail from over 26 unique countries with about 99 percent coming from the West or European countries. America is the most represented, boasting 114 anti-Islamic state volunteer soldiers. The report could only determine the affiliations of 193 of the fighters on the list. The report states one third of the foreigners are fighting with the YPG, the Kurdish force in Syria, and another 20 percent are fighting with the peshmerga, the Kurdish force in Iraq.
According to the report the average volunteer ISIS fighter is a 32-year-old military veteran that is displeased with the way the international community has responded to Islamic extremism in the Middle East. The report states that the primary grievance with international policy is:
“The primary grievance relates to atrocities being committed against civilians, with many accusing world leaders of turning a blind eye to the ongoing suffering of those caught up in the conflict”
The average anti-ISIS fighter is slightly older than the Jihadi’s recruited by ISIS in the area. Many of them have past military experience but did not serve in combat roles. In fact, many volunteers do not actively engage in combat with ISIS and instead focus on carrying out support roles to local militias. Most of the tasks involve busy-work and administrative functions, those with military experience are used to train local forces.
While a dissatisfaction with international policy is common among most volunteers the report states that Westerners join for a variety of reasons ranging from an innate calling to “do the right thing” to PTSD and the inability to return to civilian life. Jordan Matson, an American volunteer, told CNN:
“All the American veterans that have died over there — and paid their lives for that country so they could have democracy — that just resonated in my mind,”
Many veterans claim they are returning to “finish the job.” The report states that many soldiers were motivated to join the fight thousands of miles from their home due to frustrations over the current administrations foreign policy and inability to stabilize the region.
The U.S. State department strongly discourages Americans from traveling to Syria or Iran for business or pleasure and have condemned these volunteers for ignoring their warning.