SERIMLI MILITARY BASE, Syria: Kurdish militants have trained hundreds of Yazidi volunteers at several camps inside Syria to fight ISIS forces in Iraq, a member of the armed Kurdish YPG and a Reuters photographer who visited a training camp said Sunday.
The photographer spent Saturday at the training camp at the Serimli military base in Qamishli, northeastern Syria on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, where he saw 55 Yazidis being trained to fight ISIS.
Dressed in green military fatigues, young and old men were taught how to use assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades by the Syrian Kurds, sweating in the 40 degree Celsius heat.
“The Yazidi civilians want to stay in Syria because it is safer but the volunteers really want to go back to Iraq to fight,” he said by phone.
Thousands of Yazidis have been trapped in searing heat on the mountain near the Syrian border. They fled there this month to escape ISIS, which deems Yazidis “devil worshippers.” Yazidis follow an ancient faith derived from Zoroastrianism.
Some have been airlifted out by Iraq’s air force and others fled to Syria with the help of Kurdish militants.
In Syria, the Yazidi volunteers train in weapon use and fighting tactics for several days before being sent back to Mount Sinjar to fight, a member from the media office of the Kurdish YPG told Reuters.
“There are several training camps for Yazidi men who have volunteered,” Anas Hani said from eastern Syria. “In the past 10 days, hundreds have graduated. And we are training more.”
“On the top of the Sinjar mountains, in cooperation with locals and the YPG, the Yazidis have established what they call the Sinjar Resistance Units,” he said by phone.
The YPG, or the People’s Defense Units, says it has no political affiliations but analysts say it has close ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK, which has waged a guerrilla war in Turkey for decades and which the U.S. lists as a terrorist organization.
ISIS advances have drawn the first U.S. airstrikes on Iraq since the withdrawal of American troops in 2011.
Iraqi Kurdish officials have sought to play down the role of the YPG in Iraq and spotlight the actions of their own peshmerga forces, which are already being supplied weapons by the United States.
Ethnic Kurds in Syria have a complex role in nearly four years of conflict that started when President Bashar Assad cracked down on a pro-democracy uprising. Different Kurdish militia groups have fought on both sides of the conflict, normally over territory or power disputes.
The YPG is one of the few militant groups that have been able to stem the advance of ISIS.