From The Blaze: Running through a field toward cover just outside a village in the Iraqi city of Daquq, Chris Toney said he could practically feel the hail of bullets whizzing past his head. He could hear the sound of the unsettling “crack” that bullets make when they hit nearby, just another reminder that his time on Earth could end in an instant.
“Down!” one of his commanders screamed.
The order sent Toney and his fellow fighters to the ground, the sound of rapid gunfire still ringing out in the distance. He had already witnessed one of his fellow Americans get shot in the leg right in front of him.
As he lay face-down in the grass, Toney said, he thought about why his team was so badly outmanned by Islamic State militants.
He said the fighters had kept him and his team pinned down by sniper fire for hours. When a United States aircraft finally arrived to lay down some air cover, everyone was relieved — but that relief was short-lived.
The U.S. aircraft, Toney claimed, dropped one bomb on a “piece of crap” truck and another that turned out to be a “dud” that failed to detonate. The plane then left and didn’t return (a claim the U.S. military would later refute), he recalled.
However, the problem of 150 to 200 militants determined to kill Toney and the rest of his unit remained. He said they realized they had no choice but to retreat.
Content warning: some strong language
Toney was able to make it to cover and survive the terrifying clash with the Islamic State. Two of his fellow Americans were injured during the op, one with the gunshot to the leg and another with a nasty shrapnel wound. But they were alive.
Toney, a Navy veteran, is no longer in the military. He was not in Iraq as a sanctioned member of the U.S. military, but rather as a volunteer, moved by his Christian faith to take the fight to the Islamic State.
He was joined by nine other brave Americans in Kurdistan. Among them were Army veterans Samuel Swann, Aaron Core, Ryan Gueli, Jeremy Woodard and Walter Fresh, as well as Daniel Meyers, who volunteered without any past military experience but is just as tough as anyone on the battlefield. Woodard was one of the first American volunteers to join the fight against Islamic State militants and also traveled to Syriain 2014.
When asked if he or the other men were worried about identifying themselves for fear of retribution, Toney said they refuse to live in fear of the Islamic State.
This is their story.
Many times, a life-changing calling is not something you necessarily want to do, but rather something you feel you have to do. As fighters for the self-proclaimed caliphate slaughtered innocent men, women and children across the Middle East, Toney said he felt God calling on him to do something.
But Toney didn’t write to his congressman or petition the president. He got on a plane to Kurdistan, a region that includes parts of northern Iraq, prepared to help fight the Islamic State. He was accompanied by several other American veterans he contacted through Facebook, all of whom were tired of sitting back and waiting for the world to deal with the threat.
Offering an unprecedented look at the ground fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, Toney provided TheBlaze exclusive video from his time in Kurdistan.
“I saw what they were doing to my sisters and brothers in Christ over there, and how they are also killing Muslims, probably more than Christians,” Toney told TheBlaze in a phone interview. “I just felt like it was what God was calling me to do.”
He called the Islamic State “pure, unadulterated evil,” the equivalent of the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust.
“What do real men do when Nazis are killing Jews?” he asked rhetorically. “We always say we’d never let another Holocaust happen, but it’s happening. It’s happening right now. I’m not going to sit back and wait for somebody else to handle it.”
While still humble, Toney admitted that it “takes some balls” to volunteer to enter a war zone.
Toney said he arrived in Kurdistan on Jan. 15, where he linked up with Kurdish peshmerga fighters. He would soon consider them his “brothers.”
“For anyone wondering where the ‘moderate’ Muslims standing against the Islamic State, they are in Kurdistan,” Toney said.
He made it a point to personally recognize their translators, Muhommed Dalak Mehmed and Nazhad Fathi, who both also serve as Kurdish soldiers. He said they went out of their way to make them feel welcome and comfortable in the foreign land.
“I’m proud to call them my brothers, and they are Muslims. They didn’t care that we were Christians, and they treated us like one of their own,” he added.
One of the first things Toney noticed was how poorly funded and armed the Kurdish fighters were, something he said needs to change if the U.S. really wants to defeat the Islamic State.
Because the Middle East is a geopolitical “spiderweb,” Toney said it seems the U.S. is reluctant to adequately arm and fund Kurdish peshmerga fighters because the nation ultimately wants to gain its independence, something several countries are determined to prevent. The United States’ strategic relationship with the nations complicates the situation greatly, he said.
In the 1800s, he explained, Kurdistan was divided into four regions, which reach parts of Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq. Kurdistan would likely have to take on all four nations in order to achieve independence, giving those countries a reason to oppose the U.S. arming Kurdistan too heavily.
“I used to think the U.S. needed to put boots on the ground to beat the Islamic State,” Toney said. “But the peshmerga are some of the bravest people I’ve ever known. They are literally taking the fight to the Islamic State. If we adequately supported them, they could be the boots on the ground.”