Two Americans were killed last week while fighting with US-backed Kurdish YPG units near Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital in Syria.
Nicholas Alan Warden, 29, was killed July 5, and Robert Grodt, 28, was killed on July 6 in the same battle, the YPG said in press release on Tuesday. A British volunteer, Luke Rutter, 22, was also killed on July 5.
Little is known about how they died, but one YPG fighter said the three Westerners were with a small group returning from an operation when someone stepped on a mine and then the group started taking fire.
Warden and Rutter were badly wounded and brought back to the hospital, while Grodt supposedly died in the field, the YPG fighter said.
“The day before I had seen [Warden, Grodt, and Rutter] together,” the YPG fighter said. “Their faces were beaming; they were finally heading to the frontlines, a moment they had been waiting for, for a long time.”
In a YPG video posted on Tuesday, Warden said he was from New York and “joined the YPG to fight ISIS because of the terrorist attacks they were doing in Orlando, in San Bernadino, in Nice, in Paris.”
His father, Mark Warden, told The Buffalo News that his son had served in the US Army for nearly five years, completing two tours in Afghanistan, and had also been in the French Foreign Legion for five years, helping fight Boko Haram in Chad.
His dad said he started talking about joining the Army after September 11.
“Ever since that, he was like: ‘Dad, I’m going in the military, I’m fighting these people,” his dad said. “He’s been battling since he was 18 years old, as soon as he was able to,” despite having a medical condition that made him “prone to dizzy spells.”
“He was just one of those guys that seemed fearless all the time,” Steve Tylka, who served with Warden in the US Army, told The Buffalo News.
“He was incredibly social,” Tylka also said. “If you were in his circle of friends, it was close. He was always there. His sense of humor is probably what people know him for the most. He was always cutting up. He always had wisecracks and could turn anything into a joke.”
In another video YPG posted on Tuesday, Grodt said that he was from California and joined to “help the Kurdish people in their struggle for autonomy in Syria and elsewhere. Also to do my best to fight [ISIS] and help create a more secure world.”
Grodt was reportedly a former Occupy Wall Street activist, who became well known after helping a female activist who had been pepper-sprayed, The Guardian reported. They became friends after that and eventually had a child together. “Nothing strengthens a relationship like a chemical agent,” he reportedly said.
“To my daughter, I’m sorry that I’m not there … just know that I love you all,” Grodt said in the YPG video.
In another video, posted below, Grodt said he had been in Syria for five months and had started paying attention to the Kurdish struggle when a journalist “said that it was the one good thing that came from the Iraq War, that it gave the Kurds a chance.”
“It’s not just important for the Kurds,” he said. “It’s important for the Middle East to have something like this to take hold and work.”
“He was there helping oppressed people, his lifelong passion,” Elizabeth Clark, a relative of Grodt, wrote on Facebook. “I will always remember Rob for his commitment to his ideals.”
In a third YPG video posted on Tuesday, Luke Rutter said that he was born in Liverpool and that he joined because, “the YPG stand for the best opportunities of peace that this region might have.”
He said that he lied to people he cared for about going to Syria: “I said I was going somewhere else. I didn’t. I apologize massively for that. Apart from that, I don’t regret my decision, and I hope you can respect that.”
A Kurdish activist told Rutter’s mom about his death, The Guardian reported. “She was obviously very upset,” the Kurdish activist said. “She said she didn’t know he was even in Syria. She has asked for privacy to grieve for her son.”
Warden is survived by an 18-month-old daughter in France, The Buffalo News said. Grodt is survived by his 5-year-old daughter and partner, Kaylee Dedrick, The Washington Post reported.
About a dozen American volunteers have died fighting in Syria, including Warden and Grodt, according to The Post. It’s not known how many more Americans volunteers are currently there.