Meet the Americans Flocking to Iraq and Syria to Fight the Islamic State

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A motley crew of Texans, Iraq war veterans, evangelicals, and bored young men are battling to take down the caliphate. 

Adam Rawnsley writes: When a U.S. citizen going by the name “Abu Abdullah al-Amriki” blew himself up in a suicide attack in Baiji, Iraq, this month, he was the most recent example of a troubling trend: the roughly 200 Americans who have traveled or attempted to travel to Iraq and Syria to fight for the Islamic State.

Not all of the foreigners have left for the region looking to fight for the Islamic State, however. Instead, growing numbers of Americans are heading there to fight against the extremists. The men — mostly military veterans, with a strangely disproportionate share of Texans — are linking up with Kurdish groups and Christian militias in the region to battle the Islamic State militants who currently control broad swaths of Iraq and Afghanistan. A new report by the investigative website Bellingcat, released Wednesday, takes the first systematic look at these “other foreign fighters.”

“I may not be enlisted anymore, but I’m still a warrior. I figured if I could walk away from here and kill as many of the bad guys as I could, that would be a good thing.”

— Patrick Maxwell, who traveled to Iraq to fight with the Kurdish Peshmerga

The report finds that at least 108 Americans have made the journey to Iraq and Syria to take on the Islamic State, highlighting the global nature of the conflict and the relative ease of recruitment and travel to the battlefield. It’s a dangerous undertaking, and one American has already been killed in the fighting. Massachusetts resident Keith Broomfield, 36, died while fighting with a Kurdish militia in Syria earlier this year. Broomfield, who had no military experience, traveled to the war zone after a Christian religious awakening.

Nathan Patin, the author of the Bellingcat report, combed through social media posts and news accounts to compile the database. Although Patin was able to find information on the fighters using open sources, the report withholds the identities of those fighters who haven’t gone public in prior news accounts and does not include personally identifying information or information that could lead to their location on the battlefield, out of concern for their safety and that of their families.

[Read the full story here, at Foreign Policy]

The relative online openness of the Americans offers insights into their backgrounds and motivations for wanting to leave behind their daily lives in the United States and participate in wars far away that seemingly have little to do with them. Based on the biographical details offered, the Americans Patin found were all male, tended to be in their 20s and 30s, and stayed on the battlefield mostly between one and four months. Around two-thirds describe themselves as veterans, drawn primarily from the Army and Marine Corps. Texas, even accounting for its larger population, produced a disproportionate number of volunteers relative to any other identifiable home state. Read the rest of this entry »