2 Guys From Brooklyn Went To Syria To Fight ISIS. Now They’re Back (HBO)

Christopher is a former bike racer and photographer currently working as a metalworker in Brooklyn. His roommate, Chris, works as a theatre director. It’s a big change from a year ago, when both of them were in Syria, fighting the Islamic State as part of a Kurdish militia.

One year ago the U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), finished a four month campaign to push ISIS out of its Syrian capital, Raqqa. Official American involvement in Raqqa was limited to airstrikes and small teams of elite special forces troops. But the YPG, a socialist Kurdish militia, didn’t have the same limitations, drawing hundreds of foreign, less-than-experienced fighters to its ranks.

Signing up was easy — both men found applications on Google. That’s also how they met, while fighting for the YPG, and they were there on the day Raqqa officially changed hands. (After hearing rumors that ISIS had placed a bounty on the heads of foreign fighters, Chris and Christopher requested to be identified only by their first names or Kurdish noms de guerre.)

“Most of the time it was super boring,” said Christopher. Chris says he read the “whole cannon” of Shakespeare during his time in Syria.

And like many foreign fighters, Chris decided to hide his involvement in the Syrian war, avoiding social media, and only telling close friends and family where he was. Christopher, on the other hand, took a slightly different approach, building a small Instagram following, where he posted updates from the battle in Raqqa and propagandized in support of Kurdish revolutionaries.

VICE News Tonight met Christopher and Chris in New York to ask what exactly compelled them to run off to Syria to fight for the Kurdish cause.

This segment originally aired October 17, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

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These Brooklynites Went To Fight ISIS In Syria. Now, They’re Back. (HBO)

Christopher is a former bike racer, photographer who’s now a metalworker. Chris, his roommate in Brooklyn, New York, is a theatre director.

But a year ago they took a break from their jobs and went to Syria, to fight the Islamic State.

Despite the thousands of ISIS fighters that foreign recruits, official American involvement in Raqqa was limited to airstrikes and small teams of elite special forces troops. But the YPG, a socialist Kurdish militia that dominated the SDF coalition, also drew hundreds of foreign, less experienced fighters. The two Brooklynites, Christopher and Chris, met while fighting for the YPG and were there on the day Raqqa officially changed hands.

Before traveling to Syria, Christopher spent most of his time with bikes, racing and fixing them, while Chris dedicated himself to Shakespearean theatre. Like many foreign fighters, Chris decided to hide his involvement in the Syrian war, avoiding social media, and only telling close friends and family where he was.Christopher, on the other hand, built a small Instagram following where he posted updates from the battle in Raqqa and propagandized in support of Kurdish revolutionaries.

VICE News Tonight met Christopher and Chris, in New York, to ask what compelled them to fight for the Kurdish cause.

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Turkish soldiers prepare tanks at Syria border

Turkish soldiers prepare tanks at a military base on the Syrian border. Turkey has launched an offensive against the YPG militia in their enclave of Afrin. Ankara views the YPG as a terror group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Turkey. IMAGES

World leaders ‘concerned’ over Turkey offensive in Syria

Worlds leaders express concern about Turkey’s new offensive against Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which may affect the fight against IS group in Syria. Turkish warplanes and artillery are backing a major ground offensive in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, aiming to oust the YPG which Turkey considers a terror group.

Kurds Assert Control of Hasakah: The Battle for Rojava (Dispatch 3)

The northeastern city of Hasakah is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse in Syria. Its population of Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Christians was until recently politically divided between equal zones of Kurdish and Assad regime control. Immediately following the fall of the strategic border town of Tal Abyad from Islamic State (IS) fighters to Kurdish YPG forces in June, however, IS hit back with a sudden shock offensive on the regime-held half of Hasakah, causing regime forces to crumble in a matter of days.

As the Syrian army and loyalist militias relinquished control to IS, the YPG entered the battle, first encircling IS positions and then launching a ground offensive supported by pounding coalition airstrikes. Despite IS using their elite forces in the offensive, the combination of airstrikes and YPG ground troops proved too much and IS fled its recent gains in the city, leaving behind only ruined buildings and mangled bodies.

With IS pushed back from Hasakah’s southern outskirts, VICE News follows the YPG as they become masters of areas of the city that until a few weeks ago had always been held by the Syrian regime. With government forces and the YPG facing off across this disputed territory, the future status of Hasakah is now unclear.

Watch “Pushing Back the Islamic State: The Battle for Rojava (Dispatch 1)” – http://bit.ly/1TjDm3U

Watch “Night Operation Against the Islamic State: The Battle for Rojava (Dispatch 2)” – http://bit.ly/1J5SHOI

Read “In Photos: Grief, Pride and Hope in the Ruins of Kobane” – http://bit.ly/1PmshJw

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Night Operation Against the Islamic State: The Battle for Rojava (Dispatch 2)

The northeastern city of Hasakah is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse in Syria. Its population of Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Christians was until recently politically divided between equal zones of Kurdish and Assad regime control. Immediately following the fall of the strategic border town of Tal Abyad from Islamic State (IS) fighters to Kurdish YPG forces in June, however, IS hit back with a sudden shock offensive on the regime-held half of Hasakah, causing regime forces to crumble in a matter of days.

As the Syrian army and loyalist militias relinquished control to IS, the YPG entered the battle, first encircling IS positions and then launching a ground offensive supported by pounding coalition airstrikes. Despite IS using their elite forces in the offensive, the combination of airstrikes and YPG ground troops proved too much and IS fled its recent gains in the city, leaving behind only ruined buildings and mangled bodies.

VICE News followed a YPG detachment on a night operation, providing support from Hasakah’s Red Villas district to advancing Kurdish forces against IS fighters trying to defend the strategic al-Zuhor neighborhood, under waves of constant airstrikes from both the coalition and the Syrian regime’s air force.

Watch “Pushing Back the Islamic State: The Battle for Rojava (Dispatch 1)” – http://bit.ly/1TjDm3U

Read “Turkey Is Denying Entry to Bodies of YPG Fighters Killed Fighting IS” – http://bit.ly/1KfsERz

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Pushing Back the Islamic State: The Battle for Rojava (Dispatch 1)

The northeastern city of Hasakah is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse in Syria. Its population of Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Christians was until recently politically divided between equal zones of Kurdish and Assad regime control. Immediately following the fall of the strategic border town of Tal Abyad from Islamic State (IS) fighters to Kurdish YPG forces in June, however, IS hit back with a sudden shock offensive on the regime-held half of Hasakah, causing regime forces to crumble in a matter of days.

As the Syrian army and loyalist militias relinquished control to IS, the YPG entered the battle, first encircling IS positions and then launching a ground offensive supported by pounding coalition airstrikes. Despite IS using their elite forces in the offensive, the combination of airstrikes and YPG ground troops proved too much and IS fled its recent gains in the city, leaving behind only ruined buildings and mangled bodies.

For the first time, the YPG now finds itself in almost total control of Hasakah, with the regime squeezed into the central government district and IS cornered in the city’s southern outskirts. VICE News secured exclusive access to YPG fighters as they cleared southern Hasakah of Islamic State militants.

Watch: The Girls Who Fled To Syria: Groomed By The Islamic State – http://bit.ly/1IQ374T

Read: Islamic State Seizes Key Town in Central Syria – http://bit.ly/1MSxrxt

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Yazidi Refugees Escape Islamic State Fighters: The Battle for Iraq (Dispatch 6)

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Members of Iraq’s Yazidis sect follow an ancient religion, which incorporates elements of Islam and indigenous beliefs. After the Islamic State overran parts of northern Iraq, tens of thousands of Yazidis were forced into the Sinjar mountain range, where Islamic State militants — who consider the Yazidi devil worshippers — surrounded them.

President Obama claimed on August 14 that the US military intervention in Iraq broke the siege of the trapped Yazidi civilians in the Sinjar mountains. But the Yazidi themselves disagree. Instead, they are adamant that they owe their rescue from the surrounding Islamic State militants to the Syrian Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG has been fighting the Islamic State longer and harder than any other group in Syria, and pushed a narrow escape route deep through Islamic State territory to rescue the Yazidis.

VICE News travelled through the desert corridor to ascertain the true story of the Yazidis’ last minute escape from the Islamic State.

Click to watch Part 1 of The Islamic State: http://bit.ly/1lENvT7

Click to watch all our dispatches from Iraq: http://bit.ly/1mhzkDN

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