Brits fight Islamic State in Syria
Talk to the Press helps brave Brits at centre of media storm after they boarded a plane to Syria to fight Islamic State
We placed their incredible story exclusively with The Sun and are in the process of arranging further media deals for the pair.
Former soldiers Jamie Read, 24, and James Hughes, 26, are the first Brits to fight alongside Kurdish forces trying to stem the jihadists’ advance. Jamie said: “IS is the biggest threat the world faces. Killing the aid worker was the final straw. My family were nervous and obviously worried about my wellbeing — we have gone into an unknown world. But I’m a firm believer that if you want to do something you have to do it not talk about it.”
Friend James said: “I wanted to help. The situation in England is getting bad in terms of the support IS get. The world needs to open its eyes to the threat they pose.”
Dad-of-two Mr Henning, 47, drove a taxi in Salford, Greater Manchester, and was kidnapped last Boxing Day while delivering aid for a local charity. In October he became the fourth Western hostage executed by IS in a string of beheading videos.
Jamie said: “There is no justification for their executions — for putting innocent guys on their knees and doing that.”
Days after the horror Jamie, from Cumbria, and James, of Worcestershire, flew from Manchester to Turkish capital Istanbul and then to Irbil in northern Iraq. They had been members of an anti-IS Facebook group called Lions of Rojava and were put in touch with Kurdish contacts who took them in a convoy of 4x4s the 360 miles east to Kobani in Syria.
There have been reports calling the pair “mercenaries” — but they insist they are not being paid and are given only food, equipment and shelter. Jamie said: “We funded this out of our own hardearned money. We had a spare bit of money but that has all gone now.”
Talking to The Sun over Skype, they told how they were in a eight-strong “foreign legion” which includes a German called Michael, a 60-year-old Canadian called Peter, and former US troops. They have met a US surf instructor called Dean and other European volunteers.
There are more than 500 Brits fighting for IS. Jamie said: “There are Brits and Europeans on the other side here but it is hard to tell exactly who we are fighting.” Jamie, who had a brief stint in Second Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s regiment, and James, who served in Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, arrived last week.
They found the Kurdish Peshmerga forces — known as the YPG — and the IS forces dug in around hills fighting a World War One-style battle. And they were stunned at how disorganised both sides were. Jamie said: “Forget about any Western tactics. There’s no reconnaissance, no intelligence work done and no logistics. The first thing we did was to push forward into no man’s land and put an observation post there.”
“A lot of the fighting has been long-range with AK-47s, PK machine guns and sniper rifles. IS don’t want to approach us and the YPG are content with holding the line. I think the YPG will eventually gain ground but they are waiting on US or Coalition air strikes. The YPG want to bombard everything but that wouldn’t gain us public support.”
The pair are reluctant to discuss battles in too much detail for “operational reasons”. But Jamie said: “We have seen villages that have been ransacked by IS forces. They are ghost towns. People have fled or been killed. All you see is wrecked buildings.”
He believes IS could be halted with the help of a small advisory force of Western troops on the ground.
He said: “It is not for me to say what number of troops should come and which country should provide them. But all they need to do is provide a bit of structure in the YPG.” Diet is another problem. Jamie said: “Some dudes suffered malnutrition.”
The pals announced their mission online ten days ago. They fear some resulting reports could have led to their families 3,000 miles away being pinpointed.
Jamie said: “We’re disgusted our families were put at risk. We were already worrying about staying alive but that gave us something else to worry about too. We are glad now police and intelligence services are keeping an eye out.”
Asked if they had a message for their families and friends, Jamie said: “We love them all and thank them for their support and understanding.” Jamesadded: “We love them all a lot and we will be back.”
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