Ex-soldiers speak from Syrian front

A rebel fighter fires a shell towards forces loyal to Assad in the city of Jableh.       Picture: Reuters
A rebel fighter fires a shell towards forces loyal to Assad in the city of Jableh. Picture: Reuters
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Two Britons battling Islamic State (IS) have spoken from the Syrian front-line to reveal they are avenging the death of beheaded UK aid worker Alan Henning.

Former soldiers Jamie Read, 24, who lives in Newmains, North Lanarkshire, and James Hughes, 26, from Worcestershire, are the only known Britons fighting alongside Kurdish forces trying to hold off IS. Mr Read, who trained with the French Army and served in Second Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s regiment, said: “IS is the biggest threat the world faces. Killing Alan Henning was the final straw.

“My family were nervous and obviously worried about my wellbeing – we have gone into an unknown world. But I’m a firm believer that if you want to do something you have to do it, not talk about it.”

Mr Hughes, who served three tours of Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment during five years’ service with the Army, said: “I wanted to help. The situation in England is getting bad in terms of the support IS get. The world needs to open its eyes.”

Mr Henning, 47, from Salford, Greater Manchester, was kidnapped on Boxing Day 2013 while delivering aid for a local charity. In October, the father-of-two became the fourth Western hostage to be executed by IS in a string of beheading videos.

Mr Read said: “There is no justification for their executions – for putting innocent guys on their knees and doing that.”

The pair flew from Manchester to Istanbul and then to Irbil in Iraq. They were members of a Facebook group called Lions of Rojava and were put in touch with Kurdish contacts, who took them 360 miles in a convoy of 4x4s to Kobani in Syria.

There have been reports calling the pair “mercenaries” but they insist they are not being paid and are given only food, equipment and shelter.

Speaking over Skype, they told how they were in a 20-strong “foreign legion” which includes a German called Michael, a 60-year-old Canadian ex-Marine called Peter, and former US troops.

They found the Kurdish Peshmerga forces – known as the YPG – dug in around hills, fighting a First World War-style battle. Mr Read said: “Forget about any Western tactics. There’s no reconnaissance, no intelligence work done and no logistics.

“The first thing we did was to push forward into no man’s land and put an observation post there. A lot of the fighting has been long-range with AK-47s, PK machine guns and sniper rifles. IS don’t want to approach us and the YPG are content with holding the line. I think the YPG will gain ground but they are waiting on US or coalition air strikes.The YPG want to bombard everything but that wouldn’t gain us public support.”

The pair are reluctant to discuss battles in detail for “operational reasons” but Mr Read said: “We have seen villages that have been ransacked by IS forces. They are ghost towns. People have fled or been killed. All you see is wrecked buildings.” He believes IS could be halted with the help of a small advisory force of Western troops on the ground.

He said: “It is not for me to say what number of troops should come and which country should provide them. But all they need to do is provide a bit of structure in the YPG.”

Asked if they had a message for their families and friends, Mr Read said: “We love them all and thank them for their support and understanding.”