Special Reports

Foreign Fighters: An American in the Peshmarga-Daesh Conflict

Serya Yesilcay
Written by Serya Yesilcay

Former U.S. soldier Tony Tata was having issues with putting an “I hate ISIS” Facebook status on his account to show his support against terrorism. So instead, he took a plane from Philadelphia to join Iraqi Kurds in their fight against ISIS. He has been in Northern Iraq since 2015, training voluntary forces for the Hiza Agre Fire Force Unit 80 of the Peshmerga.

In light of the upcoming international operation targeting ISIS expected in Mosul in the next couple of weeks, Tata’s training, along with that of two other Americans at the camp with sniper experience, may make a big difference for this voluntary force stationed 15 miles from the frontline. The Hiza Agre Fire Force Unit 80 will be among the first to enter into combat against ISIS.

Entrance to Heza Egra Unit 80. Even during rough times, technology is available for Tata to connect to his family in the USA

Entrance to Heza Egra Unit 80. Even during rough times, technology is available for Tata to connect to his family in the USA

 “We have a woman from Syria who has parents back home. Her name is Berivan. I will not only be honored to engage Daesh side by side with her, but I know in my heart that she will have my back, I am so proud of her,

The unit consists of 300 volunteers, about 30 of which are women who have been training for the past year. Some of the women have had experience fighting in Rojava, Syria, while others are just volunteers for the cause. “We have a woman from Syria who has parents back home. Her name is Berivan. I will not only be honored to engage Daesh side by side with her, but I know in my heart that she will have my back, I am so proud of her,” Tata said. The whole unit is readied to be on the frontline in close combat, and includes Kurds from Iraq as well as Turkey. “They learn urban warfare, close combat quarters and sniper training,” Tata said. “To be effective and to complete the mission of destroying ISIS, we have to be well trained.”

Discovering the generosity and genuineness of the people Tata met in Northern Iraq gives him immense support and a sense of mission, Tata says.

Discovering the generosity and genuineness of the people Tata met in Northern Iraq gives him immense support and a sense of mission, Tata says.

Tata said he made the decision to come to Northern Iraq after hearing escalating news in the USA about ISIS. “I am not superman, I am not the best soldier, but I do have enough skills to know that I had to do something,” he said, in an interview from Navran in Northern Iraq, where the training camp is stationed. “When you see a problem, you have to either be a part of the solution, or you are really kind of part of the problem.”

“Daesh is not just a Kurdistan problem. Obviously it is also a Germany problem, it is a France problem, a world problem, but the cancer is here in Kurdistan,” Tata said.

Deciding to become part of the solution, he arrived in Erbil, Iraq on Christmas Eve, knowing no one, with no pre-contacts awaiting him and having had minimal assistance from the U.S. government. He said he did his homework prior to coming, was impressed by the Peshmerga, and knew they were the ones he would work with. “Daesh is not just a Kurdistan problem. Obviously it is also a Germany problem, it is a France problem, a world problem, but the cancer is here in Kurdistan,” Tata said.

Defibrillator, Weapons

Defibrillator in background to revive life, with weapons in front.

ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), otherwise known as ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) or Daesh, an acronym of its Arabic name, has been active since 1999 and has taken responsibility for bombings around the world, including the latest in France, Ankara and Brussels. It is headquartered in Al-Raqqah, Syria and is currently occupying large portions of land in Syria and Iraq. The United Nations and Amnesty International have held ISIS responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, which have been documented to include beheadings of not only soldiers, but civilians and journalists, among other atrocities, including rapes and floggings. It has been designated a terrorist organization by the UN and the European Union, the United States, Israel and Iran, and other countries.

When asked about his motivation for coming, Tata said he wanted to honor his friends who had come ahead of him, and those who had come and never left.  If all goes as planned, he said “we will destroy and eliminate Daesh and when my grandchildren get older, I will have given them something to be proud of.”

When asked about his motivation for coming, Tata said he wanted to honor his friends who had come ahead of him, and those who had come and never left. If all goes as planned, he said “we will destroy and eliminate Daesh and when my grandchildren get older, I will have given them something to be proud of.”

Tata, USA, America

Tata with the two other Americans at the camp

He also said he met so many locals who were grateful for the presence of an American helping them, that he wanted his friends, his country, and the whole world to know how Kurds felt about them. But it is more than simply the Kurds’ appreciation for Americans that Tata wanted to convey to the international community. His presence there might be a drop in the ocean, compared to the real needs of the Peshmerga to win their fight against Daesh, he said.

“The Peshmerga men and women, they are brave fighters, they are super warriors, but they need help – they need a lot of help from many nations,” he said. “I wish my country had done more, it should do more, the world should do more.
“The whole world is scared of Daesh, but they leave it on the backs of the Kurdistan people, to the Peshmerga, to do their fight.”

Tata said he feels a duty to play his part to bring peace not only to the region, but to the rest of the world as well, by helping to erase Daesh from the map. “Peace has to start somewhere,” he said. “The children are innocent and I have to try to make peace with myself and this war.

Daesh, ISIS, Fighter

Daesh member captured in North Iraq (photo by Tony Tata)

“Daesh are not humans, they are the lowest of evil. To kill a man in war is what we are trained to do. These monsters rape and kill children. Women. They train innocent children to commit crimes and kill,” Tata said. “So I have no problem whatsoever to exterminate every one of them I can.”

“Daesh are not humans, they are the lowest of evil.  To kill a man in war is what we are trained to do. These monsters rape and kill children. Women. They train innocent children to commit crimes and kill,” Tata said.  “So I have no problem whatsoever to exterminate every one of them I can.”

“Even an animal only kills in defense or for food.”

All Pictures have been taken by Sami Solmaz who is an award winning photojournalist and documentary director. (www.samisolmaz.com.tr)

About the author

Serya Yesilcay

Serya Yesilcay

is a journalist with an MAMC degree from the University of Florida, and has worked for the St. Petersburg Times, UF Publications, as a lecturer of feature writing at UF, Hurriyet Daily News in Istanbul, and has been in Turkey for the past two years as a freelancer.

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