An Atlanta native says an article on ISIS raping women and selling them into sex slavery inspired him to join the fight against the militant group in Syria. “I didn’t know if I would be successful here,” he tells MintPress, “but I knew I would hate myself for not trying.”
RAS AL-AYN, Syria — At a military complex in the Kurdish Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, Richard Jones, an American citizen, stands guard with a Kalashnikov assault rifle at the ready.
Jones has been in Syria for two months, volunteering to fight with the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants. He’s one of roughly two dozen Western fighters that have left behind the comforts of home to fight in the world’s most deadly conflict.
At the barracks in Syria’s al-Hasakah province, also termed Rojava by the majority Kurdish population, MintPress News met Jones and asked him what drove him to leave his home state of Georgia and make his way out to the battlefields of Syria.
MintPress News (MPN): Thanks for meeting us Richard, tell us a little about yourself.
Richard Jones (RJ): I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States. I’m 29 years old and have been in Syria for two months now. I have some military experience, some time with the National Guard, and two to three years with the Georgia State Defense Force.
MPN: We’re here in the north of Syria. You’re thousands of miles away from home. Can you explain why exactly you decided to leave home and join the YPG?
RJ: Actually, it was a really personal reason. I guess for everybody it is. When I read about what ISIS did, what ISIS did to the women in Sinjar, how they were raped, how they were sold into sex slavery — I read one article, from a Kurdish woman who was in a brothel, who sent a message to some other Kurds that knew where the brothel was, and she asked for them to bomb it because she had already been raped 30 times and it wasn’t even mid-day yet, and that many of the women had already killed themselves that morning. I knew I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing.
MPN: So you read that article, what happened next?
RJ: It was in late October that I read that article, and as soon as I read it I knew I was going to go. I started selling off certain things that I was able to use to create some funds for myself, and then started to put some of my personal affairs in order. After three weeks I then purchased my tickets to Iraq, and then after that I spent the rest of the time to gain the rest of the money that I thought I would need to purchase body armor and weapons, if needed, and other expenses.
MPN: Did you have any second thoughts?
RJ: No. Once I read that article it just stuck with me. I didn’t know if I would be successful here, but I knew I would hate myself for not trying.
MPN: You mentioned before you are ex-U.S. military?
RJ: Before I came to the location I’m at now, [the YPG] were very interested in my shooting skills. I was an expert marksman with the U.S. Army in both the M16 and M4 platforms and the M9 platform on the pistol. I had also done a lot of competitive shooting ever since I was 13, and so I have some NRA classifications.
[Writer’s note: Most of the Western men who have joined the YPG in Syria have military experience from their home countries, but few actually see frontline battle. Senior YPG officials tell MintPress that they are indeed hesitant to use foreigners on the frontline. Instead, it’s believed that foreigners’ greatest role with the YPG is one of solidarity and morale among the force. Although some are utilized in frontline fighting, most Westerners are used for security roles. Realizing that, Jones says he would like to take up a role in training Kurdish YPG fighters.]
MPN: Do the YPG have you and the other Western fighters out on the frontline at all?
RJ: They [the YPG] seemed a little bit reluctant to put the Western fighters on the frontline, so I made an arrangement with the general who I spoke with, that I could help their fighters more if I was on the front and saw how they fight, then I could spend my time operating on the front and then training their other soldiers and shooters of how to better utilize their skills at the front. But ultimately my goal is to be at the front. I have heard of other Westerners taking other roles, however, without specifically seeing them do so, I don’t want to add to any rumor mills or anything like that. So as far as what I’ve seen, from my limited experience, I know some [Western fighters] have been at the frontline, in more of a support role than in an actual frontline fighting role. I do want to help the YPG, but more than anything I want to stop and kill ISIS.
MPN: If you can’t go to the frontlines, then you want to train other YPG fighters?
RJ: I’m trying to discuss this with them, [the YPG] wanted me to go to their sniper school and help train some of their shooters. I moved here [Ras al-Ayn], and I was supposed to move on to a new location, but since then they’ve had me doing more personal security issues … force protection for VIPs and such … such as providing static security at checkpoints, of mobile security in convoys.
MPN: So, what in your mind is the role of a Western fighter here?
RJ: I think there is no singular role, each person comes here with a certain set of skills. Unfortunately some people come here with a certain set of skills that are not useful, and I believe that some people honestly should really consider not coming. Some people will end up being more of a burden than they will be of assistance. However, there are many people that can come and be of great assistance, and there have been many people before me who have come and provided great assistance and a lot of those you will never know about because they are not able to do interviews. However, the YPG can learn a lot and really utilize the Westerners if they desire, but not all have to be in a combat role. Everything from their media center to medical training, all of those would be extraordinary useful to the YPG. Every Westerner that comes needs to be a fighter, but also have other skills that can assist.