If you needed any more proof that the ongoing conflict in Iraq and Syria is becoming increasingly bizarre and morally ambiguous each day, the New York Times has it. A piece released earlier this week tells the story of American ex-soldiers who, unable to fully adjust to civilian life in the States, have returned to Iraq to fight ISIS alongside the Kurdish armed forces and various militias, some of which are considered terrorist groups themselves by the State Department.
For Patrick Maxwell, a 29 year-old real estate salesman in Austin, TX and an Iraq War veteran, the decision to return to the war torn country hinged on feelings of revenge and a lack of closure. “We patrolled every day, got shot at, mortared, hit by I.E.D.s, one of my friends was killed,” Maxwell told the NYT. “But I never saw the enemy, never fired a shot.”
Figuring ISIS, in its efforts to maintain and expand the caliphate it pronounced last summer, might present an easier target than the insurgents it sprang from, Maxwell contacted a member of the Kurdish pesh merga on Facebook, offering his help in their fight against the extremist group.
“Within days,” the NYT writes, “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.”
He’s since returned to the U.S., after his brief stint in Iraq didn’t quite live up to his expectations. He apparently rarely got the chance to face ISIS in direct combat, and spent most of his time guarding pesh merga generals. He left in mid-January when active-duty American Special Operations forces spotted him and told pesh merga commanders that employing American civilians in their ranks is definitely not kosher.
But he wasn’t the only one. During his time in Iraq, Maxwell says he encountered a variety of rag tag Americans eager to fight ISIS for their own reasons:
In the seven weeks he was in Iraq, he became disenchanted as he watched a procession of American outcasts come to volunteer, including a man kicked out of the Marines who had arrest warrants in the United States and a biker with lip piercings, implanted fangs and “necromancer” written across his black leather jacket.
“Guys who had nothing to live for and just wanted to lay down bodies,” Mr. Maxwell said.
On top of that, American filmmaker Matthew VanDyke is in the midst of putting together a documentary on a group of American veterans who have spent this winter training a Christian militia to defend themselves against ISIS. When it’s released, maybe that will help to clear things up. Then again, maybe not.