An Exclusive Eyewitness Account of an American who Trained with the Kurdish Syrian Rebels
Getting retired from the United States Marine Corps at age 23 with zero deployments under my belt was a huge blow to what I figured to be my destiny on this planet. That “retirement” came in 2010 after three years on convalescent leave, recovering from a traumatic brain injury sustained stateside. I got my chance to vindicate myself in 2015 by volunteering to fight in Syria with the Kurdish Yeni Parastina Gel (YPG), or the “People’s Protection Units” in Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish language).
The YPG is the military apparatus of the Partiya Yekitiya Democrat (PYD), the Democratic Union Party, and one of the main forces of the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS and Bashar al-Assad’s regime. While they are a direct ideological descendant of the Soviet Union, their take on Marxism has a much more nationalistic bent than that of their internationalist forebears. At their training camp that I attended, they constantly spoke of their right to a free and autonomous homeland–which I could support. On the other hand, they ludicrously claimed that all surrounding cultures from Arab to Turk to Persian descended from Kurdish culture. One should find this odd, considering that the Kurds have never had such autonomy as that which they struggle for.
All of this puffed up nationalism masquerading as internationalism was easy to see through. The Westerners were treated with respect by the “commanders” (they eschewed proper rank and billet, how bourgeoise!), but the rank and file YPGniks were more interested in what we could do for them and what they could steal from us (luckily, my luggage was still in storage at the Sulaymaniyah International Airport in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq). By “steal from us,” I mean they would walk up to a Westerner/American and grab their cap, glasses, scarf and whatever else they wanted and ask “Hevalti?” which is Kurmanji for “Comraderie?” and if you “agreed” or stalled (a non-verbal agreement) then they would take your gear and clothing. “Do not get your shit hevalti-ed,” the saying went.
Not only was their idea of Marxism fatuous, their version of feminism was even worse. We had to take mandatory “Female World History” classes in which some putrid fourth or even fifth wave feminist propaganda was espoused. Early on in my brief stay with this “military unit”, I was told not to ever brush my teeth in front of a woman as that might “sexualize” her… …something to do with preparing one’s self for sex or something.
They insisted that we chicken-wing our elbows while sighting in on targets–the same targets that were fired on by everybody in the class, thus making an assessment of individual strengths and weaknesses rather impossible. This was on the ONE day that we went to the range–one day with the AK-47 out of about a month of training. Another day was Some of these guys were straight from civilian life, with only their blood composition to act as a reason for them to be there. Little boys and little girls as young as 13 or 14 were there–reason enough for me to leave.
During one long “Female World History” class, we were taught that if a man had a Dragonov (sniper rifle) and he was elevated from his female comrade’s position and she had a Bixie, they the male in the scenario should not cover his female comrade, but instead should find something else to do lest she lose self esteem, not feeling capable of carrying out the task by herself.
When a student from Kentucky asked, “What if the situation is reversed–can a woman cover a man?” the female instructor smiled and said, “Yes, that’s okay.”
I didn’t end up firing a shot in combat for the YPG. After seeing their half-baked ideology, poor level of training, and the child soldiers, I had had enough. They were nice enough to arrange for me to go back to Iraq where I could catch a ride to Turkey.
Editor’s Note: While Bombs + Dollars cannot independently verify accounts of child soldiers being used by the YPG, the use of child soldiers by the YPG and other parties in the Syrian Civil War has been claimed by the Human Rights Watch and agencies of the United Nations. A UN General Assembly report dated August 13, 2014, states, “Instances of recruitment of children under the age of 18 by YPG were documented in document A/HRC/25/65.” The YPG itself has admitted in 2014 that there were children in its ranks and pledged to demobilize all children in a Deed of Commitment signed with Geneva Call. However, HRW documented cases of child soldiers serving with the YPG and dying as late as June 2015. A UN General Assembly Security Council report from April 2016 stated, “While cases became increasingly difficult to verify, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units continued to recruit boys and girls as young as 14 years of age for combat roles, with pressure and coercion by communities reportedly a factor.” That same report claimed ISIS, the Free Syrian Army, Liwa’ al-Tawhid, popular committees, Ahrar al-Sham, the Nusrah Front, and the Army of Islam employed child soldiers, with the majority of the cases attributed to ISIS.