This post originally appeared on VICE Canada.
While Canadian jihadis appear in Islamic State propaganda, get arrested and charged with domestic terrorism, or groom their online personas, a group of Canadian veterans are trying to join the fight against the Islamic State.
The 1st North American Expeditionary Force (NAEF)—a volunteer group comprised of ex-professional soldiers from NATO militaries and led by a Canadian—said it received approval from the Kurdish Regional Government to set up a commando and sniper school for Peshmerga recruits in Kurdistan, an autonomous region of northern Iraq.
One of the founding members of the group who only identified himself as Kevin and said he was a 15-year Canadian veteran with operational experience in Bosnia and Kosovo, said there will be a Peshmerga Reconnaissance Commando Instructors program and from there, top candidates will be plucked to take a sniper school put on by the group. All recruits will be given a first aid training program, essential for any soldier serving in an active battlefield.
"Reconnaissance skills are a key foundation towards developing proficient sniper/counter-sniper teams," said the NAEF member, who also has experience in Kurdistan as a private security contractor before the war against the Islamic State began. "With The 1st NAEF operating as Canadian not-for-profit, and a Kurdish registered NGO, all coordination takes place through KRG ministerial offices including Peshmerga."
The Peshmerga, whose name can be translated as "those who do not fear death," have been a key player in the fight against the Islamic State. The Kurds have sustained heavy losses since brutal city-to-city fighting across northern Iraq began with IS, but as of late, a cocktail of NATO bombing campaigns and ground successes put IS on the run for the the first time since June.
Canadian Special Forces are on the ground in northern Iraq training the Peshmerga too, some training in sniper tactics, while Canadian fighters pound IS with smart munitions—a mission Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently extended along with beginning to bomb targets within territorial Syria where IS is mostly headquartered.
The NAEF—which claims former security contractors and capable army veterans as members—says it isn't a mercenary entity. Instead, the group has registered as a not-for-profit company in Canada and is registered as a non-governmental organization by the KRG.
As the group will be involved with training Peshmerga soldiers in active duty on the front lines with IS instruction missions in Kurdistan come with lethal risks. One Canadian special forces soldier was killed last month in a friendly fire incident near the front line.
"Measures and safeguards have been implemented to minimize overall risk exposure of 1st NAEF members while deployed," said the ex-soldier. "Our DDC members delivering aid services are under no increased risk over that of other legitimate aid organizations functioning in Iraqi Kurdistan. To the contrary, the combination of specialist backgrounds forming The 1st NAEF allows us the capability to assess and adapt to shifting threat profiles, serving to further reduce the risks to our operations."
In the past, the department of Foreign Affairs in Canada cautioned against such volunteers in Iraq and Syria, suggesting those interested in deploying in that conflict zone "join the Canadian Armed Forces" instead.
The group says it plans to deploy in May, but is first seeking donations to finance 25 members to be on duty for 12 months.
"We have not achieved our funding goal and cannot deploy until those goals have been reached. Naturally, the stronger funding commitments we receive the more members we can deploy in support of operations," he said.
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