‘Hundreds’ of Western volunteers who fought the Islamic State in Syria are now on the front lines in Ukraine, DailyMail.com can reveal.
Americans, Brits and Canadians are among a host of fighters who have again decided to risk their lives for a foreign people on the front lines of a brutal war.
Some have become official members of the Ukrainian military, others are volunteer combat medics – and many say they felt compelled to help in the face of what they claim was inaction from the West.
In exclusive interviews, a British and an American medic said they have set up a new ‘Nightingale Squadron’, shipping medical supplies and teaching frontline first-aiders how to use them.
A 35-year-old British former banker who goes by the pseudonym Macer Gifford volunteered in Syria from 2014 alongside the Kurdish force or YPG, later named the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
He said he set up a unit there that ferried about 700 casualties to hospital, including from the bitter fighting around the siege of ISIS’s last stronghold in Raqqa, and trained around 600 people in battlefield aid.
British former banker Macer Gifford, 35 (left) and Tennessee-based US Army veteran Brennan Philips (right) have volunteered to form a ‘Nightingale Squadron’, providing medical supplies to Ukrainian military amid Russia’s invasion
The freedom fighting volunteers stocked their armored Land Rover with 170 first aid kits and ‘tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment’ to donate to Ukrainian forces
American Brennan Philips, who previously volunteered in Syria, is seen delivering a rousing speech to Ukrainian soldiers in video shared with DailyMail.com
Now he has traveled to the frontlines in Ukraine, driving an armored Land Rover packed with 170 first aid kits and ‘tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment’, bought with donations.
‘People thought internationalism had died a death. Now I believe it’s come back,’ he said.
‘I’ve been truly amazed by the people who have gone out to Syria. And it does not surprise me at all that of those people that went to Syria, about 70 per cent of them have since ended up in Ukraine.
‘There’s potentially hundreds of people in Ukraine now that were in Syria and Iraq. I know at least 20 of them myself personally,’ he added. ‘It’s just an honor to be a part of it.
‘The urgency in which the Ukrainian people have called for support, it genuinely moved me. And the same feeling that I felt before going to Syria is the same feeling I’m getting now.’
One of Gifford’s former SDF comrades and fellow Brit, Aiden Aslin, was captured by Russian forces after a 45-day siege in Mariupol, in the southeast region of Donbass, Ukraine.
‘The last we heard from Aiden was that he was surrounded, he had run out of ammunition, he had run out of food,’ said Gifford, adding that he and his unit of Ukrainian marines were forced to surrender.
‘Mariupol is exactly what happened in Raqqa and Mosul: an intense street to street battle. There were snipers everywhere. There were explosives IDs everywhere. Tanks were literally battling in the streets, and people were dying and being left where they fall,’ he said.
Last month Aslin, 28, was marched out on Kremlin state TV with a big red mark on his forehead and a swollen eye, days after his unit surrendered.
Philips and Gifford have also been providing training, including CASEVAC (casualty evacation) training to Ukrainian forces (pictured)
Brennan Philips (pictured in Syria) a former cavalry scout who was deployed to Iraq while serving in 2005, told DailyMail.com he joined the SDF in part because of guilt over America’s ‘hasty and disorganized withdrawal’ from the region that he believes helped ISIS’ rise.
He previously spent ten months in Iraq fighting ISIS alongside the YPG and other Western volunteers.
Upon his return to Britain in 2016, he was arrested on suspicion of terror charges but was acquitted and returned to Iraq for a second tour of duty with the YPG.
Known by his social media alias Cossack Gundi, he moved to Ukraine in 2018 after falling in love with a woman from Mykolaiv and joined the nation’s armed forces.
For weeks Aslin had been fighting Russian forces in Mariupol as a fully paid member of Ukraine’s army, but surrendered to the invaders two days ago after his team ran out of supplies and ammunition following 48 days of conflict in and around the besieged port city.
Philips and Gifford’s ‘Nightingale Squadron’ vehicle
A video obtained by DailyMail.com shows his last message, describing his unit’s predicament hours before he was taken as a prisoner of war by the Russians.
‘Each day that he’s in Russian hands is a worry for us. The longer it goes on, the worse it’ll be for him,’ his brother, Nathan Wood, told DailyMail.com from the family’s home in Nottingham, England.
‘It’s a race against time really to get him back in Ukraine or Britain.’
Another Brit, Shaun Pinner, 48, served with Aslin in the Ukrainian forces’ 36th Marine Brigade and has also been captured and paraded on Russian state TV.
Gifford said volunteering for foreign wars was nothing new – pointing to the ‘thousands of Brits, Americans and Europeans’ who joined rebels fighting the fascist regime of Francisco Franco in Spain last century, and Americans who volunteered in the Eagles squadrons in the UK’s Royal Air Force before the US joined the war against the Nazis.
The Nightingale Squadron has been gathering further donations online to buy more medical supplies to resupply the beleaguered Ukrainian citizens’ brigades
The volunteers have been shipping medical supplies and teaching frontline first-aiders how to use them
Some volunteers said they felt compelled to help in the face of what they claim was inaction from the West. Pictured: Boxes of medical and military supplies
‘For me, going out to Syria, fighting alongside the Kurds against ISIS was an act of political solidarity. I’m a humanitarian, I believe in democracy,’ he said.
‘What we were faced in Syria, was a threat against the very survival of the communities there.
‘Ukraine has got so much potential as a country, it’s such a beautiful place. And what they need now is Britain, America – in fact, all the world’s support in defeating Russia.’
Gifford said he is gathering further donations to his fundraiser page to buy more medical supplies to resupply the beleaguered Ukrainian citizens’ brigades.
Brennan Philips, a Tennessee-based US Army veteran, volunteered alongside Gifford in Syria and has joined him again to set up the Nightingale Squadron in Ukraine.
Philips, a former cavalry scout who was deployed to Iraq while serving in 2005, told DailyMail.com he joined the SDF in part because of guilt over America’s ‘hasty and disorganized withdrawal’ from the region that he believes helped ISIS’ rise.
He revealed that the conflict in Ukraine is not the first time he will have faced down Russian soldiers – after a close shave with alleged Spetsnaz (Russian special forces) in Syria.
While on a mission to build an alliance with a Syrian Arab Army force in Qamishli, near the border with Turkey, he said he was ambushed by Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen and Spetsnaz officers.
‘They were in disguise in UN vehicles,’ he said. ‘They pulled around in a van. Spetsnaz opened a side door, and a camera popped out of the top and started filming us.
‘I called the fixer. I said, I don’t care how you get us out of here, but get us out of here.’
Gifford – pictured with Ukrainian soldiers, one of whom wanted to hide his identity – said he is not surprised that many of his fellow Western volunteers in Syria have ended up in Ukraine
That night, Philips said, a bomb on the back of a moped was detonated in front of a nearby café, killing seven civilians – and Russian TV was broadcasting footage of them saying they were ‘CIA agents’ responsible for the bombing.
‘It was a taste of who the Russians are and how they operate,’ he said.
Philips, 36, said that the Russians were already putting out ‘disinformation’ about his captured friend Aslin, claiming he was fighting alongside the neo-Nazi Azov battalion.
In fact, Aslin was fighting with the 36th brigade of Ukrainian marines which he officially joined in 2018.
Other disinformation includes the supposed capture of an American ‘mercenary’ – when in fact a Russian soldier just found the passport of a US volunteer who is now safe in Poland, according to his family.
A video posted on Facebook shows an alleged Chechen soldier gloating that they captured the American, whose family asked that he remain anonymous.
The Chechen showed his passport to the camera and claimed the man is a ‘US special services representative’ and ‘working on Donbas territory’.
‘They help destroy the civilian population,’ a translation with the video said. ‘And somebody has a problem with us Chechens? These are the people ready to fight until the last Ukrainian. They will all find their orphanage here in the Ukrainian land.’
Philips said he fought alongside Aslin, 28, in Syria before the Brit moved to Ukraine in 2018 to be with his Ukrainian fiancée, and was one of the last people to speak to the captured soldier.
He said though Aslin’s unit put up an incredible defense, now Mariupol has fallen it will be near impossible to retake.
One of Gifford’s former SDF comrades and fellow Brit, Aiden Aslin, was captured by Russian forces after a 45-day siege in Mariupol, in the southeast region of Donbass, Ukraine
For weeks Aslin had been fighting Russian forces in Mariupol as a fully paid member of Ukraine’s army
‘Mariupol is in the European steppes. It’s flat wheat fields all around. There are no avenues of approach that you can do stealthily and undetected. And operating in urban terrain is the worst,’ he said.
‘And we’re dealing with an enemy who does not care about striking an ambulance, killing Red Cross workers, or striking children’s hospitals.’
In his interview, Philips begged fellow Westerners to fight what he claimed was a ‘learned helplessness’ and ‘fatalism’, adding that ‘wherever you’re at, whatever you do, you can do something’ to help the Ukrainians.
And in a furious message to the Russian people, he added: ‘to Russian citizens, you’re fascist now.’
‘It is an embarrassment for one to say that they are Russian on the international stage because of the actions, not of the Russian people, but of your leadership, of Putin himself,’ he said.
‘The only people who can change that is you… No one wants World War Three.
‘You all do have the power to change it.’