News You Really Need To See: “Unsettled at Home, Veterans Choose a New Fight”

“Unsettled at Home, Veterans Choose a New Fight”

The New York Times, March 12, 2015, p.A1

“Last fall, Patrick Maxwell, a 29-year-old Iraq war veteran now selling real estate in this bustling city, saw something in news footage of Islamic fighters in Iraq that he never saw as an infantry Marine there: the enemy. … With the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, hoisting its black flag above many Iraqi cities that United States troops spent years working to secure, he saw a second chance.  He connected with a Kurdish military officer online, packed his body armor, some old uniforms and a faded green ball cap with a Texas flag patch on the front, and flew to Iraq.  Within days, he was on the front lines as a volunteer fighter with Kurdish security forces, known as the pesh merga, in northern Iraq, peering through a rifle scope at Islamic State fighters as bullets whizzed past. … Mr. Maxwell is one of a small number of Americans — many of them former members of the military — who have volunteered in recent months to take up arms against the militants in Iraq and Syria, even as the United States government has hesitated to put combat troops on the ground.  Driven by a blend of motivations — outrage over the Islamic State’s atrocities, boredom with civilian life back home, dismay that an enemy they tried to neutralize is stronger than ever — they have offered themselves as pro bono advisers and riflemen in local militias … Though there is no official count, a spokesman for the Y.P.G. Kurdish militia in Syria said that more than 100 American citizens are fighting there.  Though pesh merga officials in Iraq recently said there were more than 10 Westerners fighting in Iraq, they now say there are none.  Behind the scenes, American officials have pressured the pesh merga to keep Americans out of the fight, according to American military veterans who have been in Iraq.  After being contacted by The New York Times, the pesh merga released a statement saying it would no longer accept foreign volunteers. Other militias are still accepting Westerners.”

Quickie analysis:  Another side of the “foreign fighters” issue and part of a long (if generally unacknowledged) tradition of US citizens independently volunteering in overseas conflicts.

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