Sun. Jan 23rd, 2022

For over 25 years the U.S. has played its hand in the Middle East. First, we deployed troops and aid to defend Kuwait against Saddam Hussein, then as retaliation for 9/11 and now to stop the spread of ISIS.

With polarizing politics on the homefront and an aggressive back-and-forth with North Korea, it’s easy to forget about the Islamic State and just how relevant a threat it is to us and our allies. Interested in how the U.S. could better fight terrorism, I reached out to individuals who have and currently are fighting ISIS.

First, I contacted Ibraheem “TJ” Alnoaimy, a former translator for the U.S. military and now a Joint Terminal Attack Controller for the Iraqi Special Forces (ISOF). Alnoaimy says that his current role as a JTAC is to orchestrate airstrikes against ISIS. When asked why he was fighting the Islamic State he said, “It’s a war for the world.”

He went on to say that ISIS may claim to be Muslim, but in reality, they are simply “murderers, criminals” and “sick people.” Alnoaimy also said that the U.S. and U.N. need to realize that the Iraqi military and other forces fighting ISIS are in dire need of combat-ready medics and better ISRs; ISR is military vernacular for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

To learn more about ISR I reached out to a West Chester University student who is also an Intelligence Analyst for the U.S. Air Force. He asked to remain anonymous. To explain ISR he clarified that intelligence is information gathering, surveillance is how the intelligence is gathered and reconnaissance is a style of observation where a target or area is constantly being surveilled.

I asked him what exactly the importance of ISR is to boots on the ground and why local forces fighting ISIS need such support. He said that the unmanned aircraft he works with can stay in the air for an extended period of time, roughly 20 hours. This means that friendly and coalition forces, like Alnoaimy, would have “constant over watch” providing vital information and support from the air.

One situation when Alnoaimy said ISRs are important is when Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices, or VBIEDs for short, hide in alleyways and garages waiting to attack ground forces.

The West Chester student and airman I interviewed said that in such a situation, an unmanned aircraft would be overhead surveying Alnoaimy and his team in what the U.S. air force calls “route-scanning.” If the pilot or “imagery analyst” notices anything out of the ordinary, such as a VBIED, ground troops would be notified.

This gives Alnoaimy time to prepare or maneuver around such an attack. If the situation called for an airstrike, the unmanned aircraft above would be able to deploy a laser guided weapon, one of which is known as an AGM-114 “hellfire missile.” Using this weapon to take out hostile elements on the ground near friendly or coalition forces is known as close-air support, or “CAS.”

After learning this information, I reached out to a man named Mike. Nicknamed “Peshmerganor,” Mike is a prominent social media figure and current combat volunteer for the Peshmerga. To clarify, the Peshmerga are freedom fighters who come primarily from parts of Turkey, northern Iraq, western Iran and eastern Syria. Because this area is known as Kurdistan, they are also frequently referred to as the Kurds. Their present focus is battling ISIS.

Mike is well-known in the military community for his Live Leak videos and social media accounts promoting U.S.-backed forces in the Middle East. Born in Iraq and raised as a Norwegian citizen, Mike is yet another “westerner” who has volunteered to fight ISIS.

Mike, and many volunteers like him, have to buy their own firearms, ammo, food and sometimes even provide their own shelter. When I asked him why he would leave his home and buy a plane ticket to war he said, “It was the right thing to do. Sooner or later, they will take on us at our own soil. I prefer the concept of taking the fight to the enemy.”

He said the biggest challenge facing him and other western volunteers was “fighting with an underequipped militia.” Along with this he mentioned that the “training level” of the local forces fighting beside him were “way below what would be considered the minimum in a western military unit.”

What shocked me the most was when Mike said ISIS “[uses] dirty tactics, such as chemical weapons.” I didn’t believe him at first because to me this was front page worthy news and I hadn’t previously heard of it. He then sent me a few videos of firefights he has been in and there I saw it, mortars filled with chlorine gas hitting the ground only a few yards behind him.

Mike mentioned that the U.S. can turn the tide of the fight. He said we should “arm the Kurds,” the forces he spends most of his time fighting beside. Mike said that the Kurds “are willing to fight but lack weapons, equipment and funding. They are reliable allies and share many of the same values we hold dear in the West.”

Finally, I interviewed the leader of a group called Soter Legion. Because he and his team are active combatants against the Islamic State, they asked to remain anonymous. The Soter Legion is a group of combat-veterans from over six different western countries who have voluntarily joined the Peshmerga.

Volunteering under Gen. Wahed Kovley, the Soter Legion said the biggest challenge they face is that ISIS “[blends] in with civilians and their [guerilla] style of fighting hinders [the team’s] ability to recognize and neutralize them.”

Moreover, they expressed what they thought should be done to stabilize the region and prevent the future spread of terrorism. Their leader said the best solution “would be a total rehaul” of the education system in the Middle East to one similar to western education.

He went on to say that the local forces he fights beside are difficult to train and organize because a lack of said education. Members of Soter Legion all agreed that local freedom fighters “that have been trained or educated in Western schools are much easier to associate with…because they can evaluate a situation and use problem solving skills that make sense and can be applied.”

After interviewing these extraordinary people, I looked towards the U.S. government hoping they were gathering the same information I had.

At last on May 9, 2017 President Trump announced his administration’s plan to arm and aid the Kurdish fighters, also known as the Peshmerga. In the months following this decision and up until today, the U.S.-backed forces in the region continue to push ISIS out of major Iraqi and Syrian cities.

Salvatore Pinero is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at

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