This article originally appeared on VICE Canada
VICE Canada has obtained exclusive footage of ex-Canadian Forces soldier Dillon Hillier—a man who is not only the son of a Conservative member of provincial parliament in Ontario, but a veteran of the Afghan War—attacking Islamic State (IS) forces in Kurdistan.
In the video, shot using a GoPro camera, Hillier is seen, from his point of view, firing a number of rounds at IS forces. He raises what appears to be an M16 assault rifle over a trench, letting off a burst of rounds in the direction of enemy lines.
In another video Hillier bandages a fellow Peshmerga fighter with a gunshot wound on his head after IS forces ambushed their unit.
"That's all I can do for him right now," screams Hillier as he explains to non-English-speaking Peshmerga fighters how to treat the Kurdish soldier's wound.
"Like this, like this!" he yells. "Fuck! He got hit in the face. You're going to be alright man, tell him he's going to be alright!"
According to Hillier the videos were shot during operations aimed at liberating "Tal al-Ward from the clutches of evil," as he put it. "I accomplished more good in those 20 hours than the previous 26 years of my life. I dragged a man who had been shot in the face to safety and patched him while many others stood around not doing anything," he said.
Hillier recently made headlines after it was revealed in the National Post he had hopped on a flight from Alberta to join Kurdish forces battling against the Islamic State.
But Hillier isn't alone when it comes to veterans looking for a combat role helping out in Iraq.
The fledgling 1st North American Expeditionary Force—a group of ex-soldiers ( led by a Canadian veteran)—is currently raising a military unit intent on helping Kurdish Peshmerga defend itself against IS forces. The group is entirely composed of volunteers with combat experience as professional soldiers, and is not a private military contractor.
In one Facebook post, Hillier brandishes his rifle in one hand while putting his other arm around a Kurdish fighter. The 26-year old was apparently inspired to protect Kurdish civilians against the reported atrocities of the Islamic State—a force known for mass decapitations and the systematic rape of ethnic Yezidi women.
Hillier is one of several Canadian citizens to travel over to Syria or Iraq of their own volition, joining the escalating conflict as combatants with foreign paramilitary organizations. Aside from the several Canadians plying their trade as jihadists with the Islamic State, Gil Rosenberg—a former Israeli soldier and British Columbia native—recently joined Kurdish YPG forces in the battle against IS in Kobane.
Reports emerged yesterday, citing Islamic State media sources, claiming that Rosenberg had been kidnapped by the terrorist organization who were debating how best to execute the Canadian woman. But a YPG source told VICE Canada that Rosenberg was not in the possession of the Islamic State.
Canadian law allows citizen soldiers to operate as combatants with sanctioned entities like the Peshmerga. But joining designated terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and the Kurdish PKK (an operator in the region that is listed as a terrorist group by the Canadian government) would be considered illegal under Canadian law.
The rise of western volunteers keen to take on the Islamic State is a growing phenomenon in Iraqi Kurdistan. Along with Dutch biker gangs, who strangely enough have also seen some of their members join the battle, professional soldiers like Hillier will undoubtedly be seen by Peshmerga command as serious assets battling against formidable IS forces with superior heavy weaponry.
Canadian Forces training far outclasses any military schooling in the region, and with combat experience facing down the Taliban, volunteer veterans like Hillier with real war chops could change the tide of the conflict in areas where the Kurds are desperately holding off IS troops.
Hillier's involvement in the conflict comes on the heels of expanded bombings by Canadian fighter jets in Iraq. Active CF-18 "sorties" have dropped smart bombs and precision missiles on Islamic State targets, while Canadian Special Forces operators train Kurdish soldiers in the region.
In an ironic twist, the same rounds Hillier is seen firing at ISIS forces in the above video could've easily been used against fellow Canadians: the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service said over 30 citizens are operating with terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, some in the same region as Hillier. One fighter, known by the nom de guerre Abu Usamah, once told VICE, "there are entire Kataibs (brigades) of English speakers all over Syria."
While we know a glut of Canadian terrorist recruits have joined the ranks of IS, the growing tide of professional Canadian soldiers counteracting those jihadists adds an interesting twist to the evolving conflict: It might be a war in Iraq, but it's taking on the tinge of a Western civil war among expat combatants.
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