American joins Kurds to fight ISIS in Syria

Story highlights

  • New Yorker inspired to fight terrorism by 9/11 attack
  • He's in Syria fighting ISIS with the Kurdish YPG

(CNN)Going from club bouncer in New York to a Kurdish Militia fighter in Syria, in the past few months Robert Rose has spent nights under mortar fire in intense heat, fighting ISIS in Syria. His story sheds light on how one Kurdish opposition group is recruiting Western fighters.

"I have a gut feeling that I'm supposed to die here," Rose, 25, said Wednesday morning from the headquarters of the YPG, the Kurdish Militia he has joined, a few miles from Hasaka in far northeast Syria.
"The fighting has been so heavy these past few weeks, I've seen some terrible things," he said.
    The YPG, or the Lions of Rojava, which refers to the group's Western fighters, say on Facebook that they plan to "send ISIS terrorists to hell and save humanity." According to Rose, the YPG are Kurdish militants defending their land and their people by fighting ISIS. He said women fight, too, and that they just want to live in peace.
    A Bronx native, Rose said he has hated terrorists since al Qaeda attacked his home in 2001, crashing two planes into the World Trade Center towers. Rose couldn't serve in the U.S. military at 18 because he already had full custody of his son, Jonathan, but Rose said his passion to fight terrorists never dwindled.
    "Daesh has been good about posting whatever they've been doing on public media," Rose said, using an Arabic name for ISIS. He said the video the group posted of mass killings, beheadings, burnings and stonings of innocent people inspired him to look for a way to fight.
    Robert Rose, left: "I have a gut feeling that I'm supposed to die here."
    Rose said he had never heard of Kurdish people before September 2014. It was at that time that he heard about another American, Jordan Matson, who had joined the People's Protection Units, the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party in Rojava, the Kurdish region of Syria.
    Matson, originally from Wisconsin, is followed by over 22,000 people on Facebook and posts regularly about Turkey's military activity against the Kurdish people. He posts that the Turkish government does next to nothing to combat ISIS. He has uploaded numerous pictures of himself in combat gear, and the comments from admirers are filled with smileys and hearts.
    After getting in touch with Matson through Facebook, Rose said Matson introduced him to one of Matson's commanders. From there, he quickly found a sponsor in Germany online who paid for his first trip to the region, leaving his home and family the day after Christmas.
    He stayed in Syria for just over two months and didn't see much action or fighting. Shortly after he had returned home to the Bronx, he learned his commander and translator had been killed. He felt he needed to go back.
    On July 6, he made his way back to Syria, this time to fight on the front lines.
    Rose said his unit has experienced more fighting and bloodshed than he can fathom since he left for Syria in the beginning of March, and he described sleepless nights and days.
    "We don't sleep at night, we are up all night on guard, and it's so damn hot during the day that you can only sleep for three or four hours," he said.
    Rose's father, Bobby Rose, said he is incredibly proud of his son, although when he left for Syria the first time, leaving Jonathan in his grandparents' care, they were very concerned for Rose's safety.
    "We have to stand behind him, and especially now, more so, because he is fighting for a just cause," his father said. "He heard what ISIS was doing to the Kurds and it infuriated him and he wanted to do what he could for his country, because they could come do some harm here, too. He feels like he is fighting for America as well."
    Robert Rose was always fond of the underdog, according to his father, and would stick up for children who were bullied at school. His mother, Azilde Andrea Gomez Rose, said it didn't surprise her that he left to fight, because he was always the type of person who wanted to help people and serve his country.
    Asked what they are telling Robert's son, now 9, Bobby said that at first, they shielded him from the fact that his father was in Syria, telling him that he was in Germany. "We still kind of keep it at bay but it's harder because with the media, he has been seeing the pictures and everything," he said.
    "You have to keep your fingers crossed that he gets through this OK -- that's my boy," said a hopeful Bobby Rose. He added that the entire family, including Robert's sister Tyla and brother Jason are waiting for him back home.