America’s War in Syria
Fighting with Kurdish Anti-ISIS Forces
Till “Baz” Paasche, John Foxx, and Shaun Murray
Casemate, Philadelphia, 2022, 304 pages
Book Review published on: November 10, 2022
America’s War in Syria: Fighting with Kurdish Anti-ISIS Forces is the memoir of the three authors’ participation as foreign fighters against the Islamic State (ISIS) caliphate. Till “Baz” Paasche is a German and academic, John Foxx is an American and former Marine, and Shaun Murray is an Irish national and former member of the British army. In the story, all three men provide explanation for the personal reasons they joined the Kurdish fight against ISIS. More than just a personal journey of combat, the work is a military case study with a healthy mix of geopolitics and a dash of international political theory.
The authors present the military operation in a chronological fashion, providing needed historical context and outlying the key phases of the war from the root causes of violence to the ultimate defeat of ISIS. For a conflict that received relatively little Western media attention, the book sheds insight into the three levels of war that drove military actions in northern Syria. From a strategic perspective, the book summarizes the key players and their interests in a region that was either ungoverned, autonomous, or in a state of civil war. This included the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Syria, Russia, Iran, ISIS, the Kurds, Arabs, and Yazidi people. From the operational level they underscore the combatants and their supporters: the Syrian regime, the Turkish army, and Turkish-backed militias, the formation of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces comprised of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) elements, the use of foreign volunteer forces, and national capabilities such as special operations forces, heavy artillery, and aviation. The tactical level is brought to life by the authors’ vivid experiences while serving in frontline combat units. Most of the action is told at the squad and platoon level. The writers describe the lack of experienced soldiers, commanders, and resources, the boredom and adrenaline rush of close combat, the unrelenting casualties, crippling fatigue, and loss of comrades in arms.
The book examines the horror of the totalitarian ISIS regime: the imposition of draconian laws, and intimidation of its conquered people. The brutality and cunning of ISIS fighters was highlighted by their techniques in urban warfare. ISIS fighters used suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, fanatical snipers, and the targeted attacks against women to great effect against the Kurds. It was ISIS’s cruelty and its threat to the region that galvanized international support to defeat it.
The authors take a complex conflict and carefully explain the ever-changing alliances and support from myriad actors. The book provides several graphics that depict the changing landscape and span of control by the various combatants. The writers explain the Kurds were not fighting for an independent state but to be allowed to self-rule in autonomous regions. This Kurdish political theory called Democratic Confederalism simply meant direct democracy in autonomous spaces. Lastly, the book highlights it was when American support was committed to the effort that all but guaranteed the defeat of ISIS.
The book was well written and enjoyable. I would suggest it to anyone who works or has interest in national security and modern military history. Toward the end, the book takes a controversial tone as the authors are highly critical of the American policy change in the region. America’s War in Syria is an examination of America’s involvement in modern conflict, and I highly recommend it.
Book Review written by: Col. Robert Sherrill, U.S. Marine Corps, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas