Ash Johnston joined up with the Kurdish People’s Protection units in Northern Syria sometime around December of 2014, and served with the Kurdish militia as it beat back the ISIS hordes. The YPG stationed Ash in Sinjar, Iraq which has been one of the hottest battles of the war.
Sinjar is the home to the Yezidi religious minority in Iraq, and when ISIS invaded they slaughtered innocent people wholesale, forced others to convert to Islam, and turned many of the women and children into sex slaves. The YPG was instrumental in opening up a corridor for civilians to escape at that time, and once again showed their worth when they completed the liberation of Sinjar just last week.
The successful YPG operation to free Sinjar is a critical step towards the Pentagon’s pre-announced military offensive to help the Iraqi government re-take Mosul in April. Sinjar and Tal Afar are both important logistical hubs for ISIS in resupplying Mosul with weapons and fighters. Because of this, Mosul will need to be isolated prior to the coming US-led military offensive.
While in Sinjar, Ash belonged to an informal group of Western volunteers known as “The Chappies” serving in the YPG, which included American volunteer Jordan Matson. During the battle, another American volunteer named Matt was shot in the leg and had to be evacuated to a hospital. Thankfully, he is expected to recover.
Ash Johnston was killed near Tal Hamis, the ISIS capital in Northern Syria. Tal Hamis is a strategically important target for the Kurds because from there, the road is wide open straight down into Raqqa, the heart of the so-called Caliphate. While information coming out of a war zone is difficult to discern, we are told that Ash was killed by small arms fire. He is the first Western volunteer to have died fighting with the YPG.
Previously, the foreigners serving in the YPG had been kept on guard duty in parts of Rojava (Kurdish Syria) which are relatively safe. That some of the foreign volunteers have been deployed to the front lines in Sinjar and Tal Hamis demonstrates that the Kurds are beginning to figure out which foreigners they trust and are willing to send forward.
Men like Ash, Jordan, and Matt confront the avoidance tactics used by their governments in Australia and the United States by their actions. These young men have decided to write their own foreign policy by throwing their lot in with the Kurdish forces and going to war with ISIS.
(Featured Image Courtesy: The Australian)