When the battle for Raqqa concluded, many of the foreign fighters that had inserted themselves into the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) ranks, primarily into the Kurdish YPG, returned home as the Islamic State in caliphate form was no more. Now, as Turkey attacks the Kurdish held city of Afrin, it seems the remaining few have emerged from the woodwork to fight back against the NATO-partnered nation. Some of these fighters may have just arrived in the region as their gear is clean and looks to be of a tactical nature, something that the YPG regulars generally do not go for; this however, is unconfirmed.
The decision to rush to the aid of the Kurdish people occupying Afrin is brave and commendable but ultimately a reckless course of action. While much of the world will be siding with the Kurds and be sympathetic to their struggle, Turkey is still a part of NATO and committing acts of war against them labels the individual a terrorist. While this is technically true, it remains to be seen if any of these men will be charged in light of the situation. One of the first things they (the FBI/DHS) tell before you go overseas as a foreign volunteer combatant is that if you engage U.S. forces or their allies, you will be criminally charged accordingly. How this affects the foreigners in the group will vary from nation to nation, but the Americans and British are surely aware of their countries’ stance on the subject since so many of the men in the video chose to cover their faces.
Many men and women have traveled to Syria, joining the ranks of the YPG/YPJ for a plethora of motivations and under a variety of banners though ultimately came together under one, the SDF’s. They all however, go through a cultural/political indoctrination school that is run by the YPG. A school that preaches Democratic Confederalism but caters to Communists as well given the YPG’s close ties to the PKK, the only difference being really that one is old-school and the other new-school thinking for the YPG. The school also teaches other aspects of Kurdish culture such as societal norms and fundamental language skills. The students learn how America has never won a war with its inferior tactics and the only thing that makes it strong militarily is its vast amount of technology. They are educated on the Kurdish struggle and while Turkey is not a direct subject to my knowledge, the whole thing has heavy anti-Turkish undertones.
The French national in the video, who identifies as Tolhildan, states, “The world has turned a blind eye to Afrin. Nobody knows what really is going on here. But we are determined to protect our soil. No matter it is against ISIS terrorism or Turkey’s state terrorism,” and, “We’ve been fighting against ISIS terrorism for years. No one should expect us to stay silent when the territories saved from ISIS with blood is being invaded.” Several American voices can be heard in the video discussing re-enlistment as well.
It will be interesting to see how the situation in Afrin develops and how the international community will treat these men, but it will likely not be in their favor. The desire to stand up to injustice is a noble thing but sometimes you need to take alternate route from the direct course of action in the spirit of longevity and self-preservation. As has been said in certain circles, “Do the right thing but do not drink the Kool-Aid,” a reference to partaking in a group’s ideology that is different from your parent nation.
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