Some Christians in the United States have decided to privately back a war against ISIS militants in Iraq instead of waiting for the government and its allies in the coalition to take action beyond air strikes.
According to Jonathan Krohn of AFP, a local Christian militia known as the Nineveh Plains Protection Unit (NPU) is being funded by Christian groups from abroad, mainly from the United States. Matthew VanDyke, who has a military contracting firm called the Sons of Liberty International (SOLI), is helping train Christian volunteers to take on the jihadists.
"This is an extension of my work as a revolutionary," VanDyde said from the northern Iraq city and Kurdish capital of Arbil. "What gives somebody else the right to sit home and do nothing?"
Krohn reported that VanDyke originally rose to fame as a foreign fighter in Libya, joining alongside rebels to take down the regime of Col. Muammar Gaddafi. His story was captured in director Marshall Curry's film "Point and Shoot," which won the best documentary award at the Tribeca Festival last year.
"The 35-year-old came to prominence in 2011 when he joined Libyan rebels in the fight to overthrow Gaddafi," Krohn wrote. "He was held by regime forces in solitary confinement for more than five months."
According to Krohn, the NPU's name has significance for the locals taking on ISIS militants, who have declared a "caliphate" over areas of Iraq and Syria they have seized and have targeted persecution efforts against Christians and other minorities.
"The Nineveh in the NPU's name refers to a northern region which Iraq's Assyrian Christians and other religious minorities consider their ancestral home," Krohn wrote.
AFP reported that although the US-led international coalition is officially training both Kurdish and Iraqi forces to take on ISIS, other "less official" parties have been drawn into the conflict. A California-based group founded by Assyrian-Americans called the American Mesopotamian Organization (AMO) has funded the NPU.
AMO's chairman, David Lazar, told AFP that more than 80 percent of the donations come from the United States. The group also claimed that it has raised more than $250,000 since December for the NPU, which has yet to see actual combat against ISIS.
"I'm a firm believer that the Middle East has to have this indigenous population," Assyrian-American Joseph Baba, who donated a little less than $10,000 to the group, said.
Other Americans have decided to fight ISIS alongside the militias themselves. Jesse Rosenfeld of the Daily Beast talked with three Americans who fought alongside the Kurdish militia known as the Peshmerga; their last names were withheld for their protection.
"ISIS are tough, real tough," Jeremy, a 28-year-old man from Mississippi who has fought with U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, said. "It's a very different fighting group that's trying to take over."
According to Rosenfeld, the other two Americans, 38-year-old Leo of Texas and 41-year-old Mel of Colorado, have been with the Peshmerga for two months. All three Americans told Rosenfeld that their main assignments included guarding high-ranking Kurdish military officials and transporting jihadist prisoners in Peshmerga custody.
"It's work Mel and Leo became well accustomed to when hired as contractors in earlier American wars," Rosenfeld wrote.
However, the legal status of Americans involved in the fight against ISIS remained up in the air. Although a US State Department spokesman told AFP that licenses were needed to provide "defense services" such as military training, VanDyke did not care for such legal concerns.
"Generally the attitude of the United States seems to be as long as you shoot in the right direction they don't care," VanDyke said. "You know, I go and risk my life in other countries, why would I be all that concerned about that?"