by Alec Rosati-Hohensee
The ongoing fight against ISIS in Syria claimed yet another life, this time that of Buffalo native Nicholas Alan Warden. Warden (29) was injured by a mine on July 5 while fighting alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (known as the YPG or Peshmerga) outside ISIS capital, Raqqa, Syria. He died of his wounds on July 7, leaving behind a wife and young daughter in France.
Warden traveled to Syria in February, determined to fight against ISIS “because of the terrorist attacks in Orlando, in San Bernardino, in Nice, [and] in Paris,” according to a video made shortly before his death.
He and California native, Robert Grodt (28), who died on July 6, brought the number of American volunteers killed fighting alongside the YPG to around 12. Grodt, a well-known Occupy Wallstreet activist, was also killed in the battle for Raqqa.
By the time Warden went to Syria to fight ISIS, he completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan and spent 4 years and 9 months in the United States army. He left the U.S. army in 2011 and joined the French Foreign Legion to fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria and Chad for five years, ending in 2016.
According to Nicholas Warden’s father, army veteran Mark Warden, his son’s commitment to the fight for freedom began after he witnessed terror on September 11, 2001, at just 13 years old. Ever since then, his father says, Nicholas aspired to become a soldier.
Warden left the French Foreign Legion in 2016, and considered taking a prestigious and financially lucrative job with a contracting firm working closely with the U.S. army called Triple Canopy. Feeling his life-long urge to fight for what he believed in; he postponed his decision, and went to fight ISIS in Syria alongside the YPG.
Warden, who took the Kurdish nom de guerre Rodi Deysie, is listed among the “fallen martyrs” on the YPG’s website:
“Six of the martyrs who were fighting Daesh’ [ISIS] fascism at the front in Raqqa, were internationalist volunteers. Comrades Demhat [Robert Grodt], Rodi [Nicholas Warden] and Soro [Luke Rutter]…joined the fight to end Daesh’ barbarity and sacrificed themselves for a common and free life for all peoples,” the site stated, “Hundreds of young individuals from across the world joined the struggle and revolution to make it a global phenomenon.”
The U.S. State Department strongly discourages Americans from fighting ISIS, noting that the “ability to provide consular assistance to individuals who are injured or kidnapped, or to the families of individuals who die as a result of taking part in the conflict, is extremely limited.”
The Kurdish YPG is one of several groups comprising the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed coalition fighting ISIS across the region. In the past two years, the coalition has taken large swaths of ISIS territory and is the spearhead of the fight for Raqqa, an important ISIS stronghold. The group was formed in 2004 as a militant wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which fights for Kurdish sovereignty in the region. The YPG became more powerful in 2015, when it began to receive air and ground support from the U.S. after major victories against ISIS at the Siege of Kobani. It is currently one of many factions fighting for various ideologies and with the support of various state actors in Syria.
As Nicholas Warden’s family mourns their profound loss, they take comfort in the fact that the young man died fighting for what he believed in. Warden went to Syria knowing full well the tremendous risks. He did not make the consequential decision to be separated from his wife and daughter to fight for others’ freedoms lightly, and did so without the promise of financial reward. Nicholas Alan Warden, in his own right mind, made the ultimate sacrifice to make the world a safer, freer place.