Tags / Military
A decorative light in the shape of the Western Sahara hangs in the desert near Bir Lehlu.
Containers full of aid are lined up in the desert near the Rabouni refugee camp.
A man stands beside his broken-down car in the Rabouni camp.
A woman dresses in festive attire and waves a Western Sahara flag during a rally for the independence of the Western Sahara.
A Saharawi military parade is under way in the desert near the 27 February refugee camp.
Women join the parade in support of independence for the Western Sahara.
A soldier carries a SPLA flag near the Rabouni camp near Tindouf, Algeria.
The Smara refugee camp in southern Algeria is home to thousands of Western Saharan refugees.
Women sift through clothing at a street market in the Smara refugee camp.
November 18, 2014
Iraqi British military trainer Shaker al-Saidi instructs volunteers from the Al-Abbas Combat Division, a Shia militia that is fighting alongside the Iraqi Army. The video shows the trainee paratroopers in a training session, in Karbala, prior to their first practice jump from over 3000 feet. The Iraqi army has provided the militia with a helicopter to help in the fight against ISIS. The volunteers have been undergoing intensive training for 14 to 15 hours a day for the last 45 days.
In 1983, Shaker joined the Youth Academy for Paratroopers in Iraq. In 2000 he emigrated with his family to Britain where he continued developing these skills before becoming a trainer and a member of the British Parachute Regiment, the airborne infantry of the British Army. He also trained British forces stationed in the United Arab Emirates and many other Arabic countries.
Saleh, fighter in Al-Abbas Combat Division (man, Arabic):
(0:55-01:19) "We belong to Al-Abbas Combat Division. My fellow fighters and I fight under the flag of the religious leader and today is our first trial jump."
Interviewer: "How many meters are you going to jump?"
Saleh: "3000 feet." (1000 meters)
Shaker al-Saidi, Iraqi British trainer (man, Arabic):
(01:24-02:01) "The purpose of this training is that in the current circumstances we are experiencing the need for paratroopers who can reach areas that are difficult for field fighters or vehicles to access. We might need to use them for special targets in the night time. Those chosen paratroopers can be the beginning of the formation of a parachuting force consisting of over 100 fighters."
Maitham al-Zubaidi, commander of Al-Abbas Combat Division, (man, Arabic):
(03:15-04-11) "This is the first trained group in Al-Abbas Combat Division, trained by the international trainer Shaker al-Saedi. Al-Abbas Combat Division was formed as an answer to the call of the religious leader, and it was included in the Iraqi army and a part of the operations of al-Furat al-Awsat. The purpose of today's jump is to increase the strength and the abilities of the fighters in the group to be able to face the current and upcoming challenges."
(05:42-06-11) "The first jump in the history of "the popular forces" is taken by this hero right here, under the leadership of Al-Abbas Combat Division. History will document this. The first jump in Iraq for military purposes. The first jump and many more to come, striking the heart of the enemy."
October 20, 2014
Balad, Salahuddin, Iraq
Fighters from the Saraya al-Salam Shia militia, under the command of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, in cooperation with Iraqi SWAT teams, build up defenses around the Shia town of Balad in the Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad. ISIS fighters have had the town surrounded for over three months. The extremist group controls the neighboring area and is attempting to advance south towards the capital Baghdad.
The video shows the army and militia fighters firing at ISIS insurgents who are positioned just 500 meters away. The militia fighters blame the government for the lack of military and financial support in the fight against ISIS insurgents.
(Man, Arabic) Abu Fatima: (00:52) "We are constantly being attacked from those houses, Abu Jaber, Ezz Balad, and Abu Farraj. Unfortunately, whenever we ask for help from officials or the local government they do not respond. We will remain here no matter what happens, for the sake of [the Prophet’s grandchildren, Imams] al-Hassan and al-Hussein. We asked the officials to give us tanks, or provide us with a support group so we can resist ISIS."
(Man, Arabic) Abu Ali: (01:22) "To whomever might say that our city is going to fall in their [ISIS] hands, [we say that] we are here and ISIS is there. We are outside of the city; it is about 5 km away. We are here, outside the city, protecting it."
(Man, Arabic) al-Husseini: (02:00) "All of this area gets filled with people at night, so they can monitor it. It gets filled with men from the Popular Crowd committee."
(Man, Arabic) al-Husseini: (02:27) "This is a besieged city. Almost 70% of it is besieged. Only the Baghdad-Samarra road is open while ISIS controls the rest. The Popular Crowd forces control about 23km [of the road] from al-Rawashed to Ezz Balad all the way to Tel al-Zahab. This is the brigade of Sayed Mohamad; they are all heroes. Look at this hero here. He has two injuries, one in his hand and another his leg but he refuses to quit – he wants to be a martyr. This is our faith and principle in fighting the enemy."
(Man, Arabic) Abu Ammar: (03:22) "Even if both of my arms were amputated, I would fight with my legs."
(Man, Arabic) Jaafar al-Kazem: (03:29) "We need the support of the central government, we need weapons, munitions and artillery. We also need salaries for the fighters. Why has the central government neglected us while we have been fighting for the past four months?"
(Man, Arabic) Zu al-Fokar: (03:46) "We have been fighting in this area for almost three months. We are fighting like heroes but, unfortunately, nobody is watching or listening to us. We are demanding the simplest rights, the rights of soldiers who do not have anything, even though we are not fighting for money."
Abd al-Hussein Ali:
(09:08) "We are now at entrance number three. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are less than 500 meters away from us. Hopefully, in the upcoming days we will liberate entrance four and five with God's help."
(09:26) "These criminals are about 500 meters away with a sniper rifle aimed at us, but we will beat them."
They are considered fearless patriots in their own country, while Russia accuses them of Nazism and sees them as the greatest threat to the Russian nationals. Claiming to be “anti-communist”, today the Azov Battalion is no doubt the most powerful weapon in Ukraine.
The potency of this weapon comes from an effective combination of patriotic young men and professional instructors. The well-earned trust of the society and important missions handed down from the government enabled the Azov to gain foothold on the front lines. Today the battalion’s main task is to find and destroy pockets of separatism in Mariupol area and to prevent the smuggling of weapons along the shoreline of the Azov Sea.
Paradoxically, young patriotic Ukrainians, often coming from the neo-nationalist background of football hooligans, became a pillar of Ukrainian unity from the very beginning of the Maidan uprising.
From football fans to foreign soldiers
The volunteer Azov Battalion created in May this year has already taken part in several important battles to liberate a number of towns from pro-Russian separatists. The major victory was regaining control over Mariupol. The battalion’s rate of casualties is among the lowest compared to other volunteer outfits in Ukraine. The soldiers claim that this is due to their rigorous internal discipline, motivation, readiness, and the fact that seasoned commanders always take part in action with their companies.
Today, the battalion has up to a thousand fighters. Most of them have arrived from the towns and cities of Eastern Ukraine and therefore often ask to conceal their faces in the pictures. Officially a task-force of the Ukrainian police, the battalion is headed by Andriy Biletsky, the leader of the Ukrainian political organisation the Social-National Assembly (SNA).
The Azov Battalion is quite unique. It welcomes foreign volunteers and unites people advocating neo-nationalist ideas. Although the ideology is no secret in the battalion, it receives no emphasis either.
“We are the most nationalist international battalion,” laughs Andriy, one of the staff officers, and asks to translate the quotation accurately. Andriy is a history teacher, but he has put aside pedagogy to fight on the front lines of his homeland.
The Azov has some 20 foreigners in their ranks, mostly hailing from Scandinavian countries as well as from France, Canada, Italy, Greece, Slovakia, Poland, Georgia, Belarus, and Russia.
Based in Yanukovych’s villa
The Azov is headquartered in the resort town of Urzuf on the shore of the Azov Sea, 45 km from the city of Mariupol. When we reach the town behind several Ukrainian checkpoints, the driver stops by a couple of locals to ask for directions. They keep it short: “You are going to Yanek’s? Head straight.”
Urzuf is famous for its glorious sandy beaches as well as the summerhouse of the toppled president Viktor Yanukovych. The villa had been occupied by the Donbas separatists until recently, but now they have been replaced by the Azov Battalion.
The metal gate of the headquarters is decorated with the battalion’s emblem “inherited” from the SNA. The Wolfsangel logo borrowed from the Nazi Germany consists of overlapping letters N and I meaning the “National Idea.”
Azov instead of the university
The men are lifting weights in the courtyard. A phone is playing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” When the refrain starts, the men break into a chorus without the slightest disruption in their activities: “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good!”
One of them is Dartanyan “Dart” from Kharkiv. The 19-year-old sportsman entered the School of Law in his hometown, but has not yet opened a single book. “When I registered with the university, I sat down, took a deep breath and realised that it would be weird to sit at a school desk while my fellow countrymen are fighting, so I enlisted in the Azov Battalion. I received a call from the university some time later. They asked me why I hadn’t been showing up, and I said that I had been with the Azov. I am glad they understood my choice and wished me good luck.” Dart added that he would definitely go back to school the next year.
The well-set young man has been doing all sorts of sports from early childhood. He has also spent a year in the army and worked as a bodyguard in a private security company. Dartanyan comes from Kharkiv, which had been one of the first to flare up in the fire of separatism. “Supporting a united Ukraine and enlisting in the Azov has cost me many friends. Only a few remain – perhaps the ones that were really true. But it was a 'healthy' and necessary screening. Here, in the battalion, I have found my second family.”
When the training is over late at night, Dart joins his friend Roma from the company to take a bath in the sea, as there is still no hot water in the summerhouse. Treading across the territory of the former president’s villa, the boys stop to watch the other fighters from the battalion play football. “Look at those faces. The difference from the separatists is obvious. The battalion consists of educated volunteers who love their country and have been united under a single purpose – to free our homeland from the grip of Russian-backed separatism. This makes us all a single family with strong ties. The atmosphere here is proper.”
Tired of putting up with Russia
The highest number of legionaries in the battalion comes from Sweden. One of them, Leo, arrived to the Azov from Malmö a few weeks ago.
Leo has the Poseidon’s trident tattooed on his cheek. In Sweden, the symbol is used by the Kustjägarna, or Costal Rangers, the amphibious special operations unit. The legionary claims to be a fresh graduate from the Swedish Military Academy and says he was brought to Ukraine by two reasons: to fight pro-Russian separatists and to help the Ukrainians who share similar nationalist ideas.
“I cannot stand aside when national boundaries are shifting in the 21st century, and I cannot stand aside when a state rides a tank into the sovereign territory of another country,” says Leo, and promises to stay in Donbas as long as he is needed.
Carolus arrived from central Sweden and says he was disappointed with Sweden’s tolerance towards Russia. “I am here to fight the separatists. I resent Sweden for putting up with the imperialist occupant. But, I believe that in time my country will reconsider its relations with Russia.”
During the conversation Carolus is gutting fish in the spacious kitchen of the resort where the Azov battalion is based. “Until recently, we [the foreigners] have been excluded from cooking and fighting activities due to the vital language barrier”, says the Swede and hopes to join the battles once he has proven himself in food preparation.
When asked if he is ever going home, the Swede ponders for a moment and then replies that he is not sure whether he wants to go back to the “tolerant Sweden” after his experiences here in Ukraine.
Only a couple of foreigners serving in the battalion have seen real action in Donbas. According to Leo, they have been left behind because they can’t speak Ukrainian or Russian which could lead to communication failure in critical situations, and because of a lack of political will to use the English language in radio communication.
Foreigners do not deny that the Azov Battalion is forming an English speaking unit of legionaries, which is expected to be commanded by the legendary sniper of the Swedish army Mikael Killt.
Perhaps the most seasoned among the legionaries is the soldier from Thessaloniki dubbed the “Greek.” “I was thrown in the middle of fighting in Donetsk region as soon as I arrived,” recalls the Greek. “I hadn’t even received a uniform yet.” The professional Greek army officer claims to have already taken part in a lot of combat action during the couple of months in the Azov battalion. “Perhaps too much,” he adds with a sigh.
He arrived on personal grounds: “Every foreigner has his own motivations and causes. Some are yearning for adventure, some are professional soldiers, and some have come to support a Nazi ideology. My reasons have been to take part in combat action and gain experience. Of course, I also hate Russians. I am here because the Azov is the only battalion to welcome foreigners.” Officially, the soldiers earn only $70 per month here.
“Greeks support Communism, therefore they back Russia’s actions, while I have always been pro-Western,” says the legionnaire. “We have fought a 5-year war against Greeks with Bulgarian roots. They were also supported by the Communist party and, of course, Russia. I don’t see many differences between the separatist actions that took place in Greece and the current events in Ukraine.”
Like the other foreigners, the Greek has arrived here under cover and would like to conceal his identity. Unlike France, most of the European countries don’t have laws banning their citizens from joining foreign armies, but most of the arrivals would like to avoid unnecessary attention and possible retributions in the homelands.
In December 2014 NATO troops will withdraw from Herat and other bases around Afghanistan after a ten years mission. Interpreters who worked alongside NATO forces now feel that they are in danger and receive death threats from the Taliban. They risked their lives for 10 years alongside NATO troops, and now some are beginning to feel that they are being abandoned. It is turning out harder than they thought to obtain the visas promised them by the governments of NATO forces.
Mohammed and Abbas were translators for the Italian NATO forces based outside of Herat. They are pleading with their government to put pressure on the Italian government to allow them visas, having risked their lives for ten years while working to protect Italian forces and ensure their communication with Afghan communities and leaders.
An "Azov" fighter eats lunch in the training base in Urzuf.
Foreign "Azov" fighters clean potatoes in the kitchen of the training base, trying to become integrated into the mostly Russian speaking battalion.
Unexploded missiles lay near a block post in a 'buffer zone' in the outskirts of Mariupol.
A cat looks after one soldiers weapon as the "Azov" fighters eat lunch together on base.
An "Azov" fighter inspects unexploded missiles littering the ground near a post in a 'buffer zone' in the outskirts of Mariupol.
One of the commanders of "Azov" battalion, Andriy, inspects a field after a post was shelled in the 'buffer zone' outside Mariupol.
The "Azov" battalion patrols the outskirts of Mariupol, Southeast Ukraine.
Andriy is the staff officer at the "Azov" training base in Urzuf .
"Azov" fighters play rugby in the training base in Urzuf during their downtime from training.
A foreign "Azov" fighter nicknamed 'the Greek' shows his passport in at their training base in an Urzuf resort 45km south from Mariupol.
A local girl looks on as war prisoners enter the "Azov" training base in Urzuf.
Food supplies fill a reception room in the resort now serving as the "Azov" battalion's base.
"Azov" fighters wash dishes after their lunch.
"Azov" fighters play football at their training base.
"Azov" fighters exercise in their free time, always keeping their arms nearby.
An "Azov" fighter lifts weights, showing a right-wing tattoo.
An "Azov" fighter exercises on base, his weapon behind him for the moment.
Dartanyan (left) and his fellow "Azov" fighters patrol an area near the cathedral in Urzuf.
"Azov" fighters patrol the Mariupol region in the southeast of Ukraine.
"Azov" fighters patrol the Mariupol region in the southeast of Ukraine.