Well here’s your monthly dose of Western volunteer drama, and I hate being an opinionated prick, but in my defense I think it’s worth putting out there. This shit is bad for business, if you catch my drift. I first heard about “Kat Argo” and her group, Qalubna Ma’kum, through an Army Times article. Then I started to see the posts on 9th Brigade’s Facebook page and posts from other volunteer-based sources. Kat has a background in the Army National Guard as a junior officer—a 35D military intelligence officer with several deployments to Afghanistan. She also served as a civilian contractor in Kabul after her time in service. As with anything in life, if you do something long enough, you begin to recognize what’s what at a glance—the devil is in the details. A massive amount of media attention is a big red flag for starters, but my next trick is probably not going to make me a lot of friends. Oh well. Sometimes the truth hurts.
Believe it or not, people don’t usually travel to war zones on their own accord for zero personal gain. Sure, it looks like everyone has a noble, selfless cause, and it looks good on paper, but in reality, they’re usually here for some personal gain or some other motive. I’m talking about doing it on your own, not with a well-equipped and logistically sound military force. If we look at the past, we have seen many volunteers who have shown up to Kurdistan for nothing more than fame and glory or a get-rich-quick scheme in mind. Now before you readers start slamming your keyboards in hate, let me be clear: I have met some kickass soldiers, Marines, and volunteers in my short time on this earth that absolutely can hack it in a proper shit-storm, and who serve or volunteer with noble sentiments. However, they were and are exceptional individuals. So basically, when I see a group show up together, I get suspicious. Past experiences have been enough to warrant a red flag, regardless.
Now, my next red flag is asking for donations, which is funny because when I first arrived, I was in that boat and it was an appreciated gesture. We did use the funds to supply ourselves with equipment, food, toiletries, etc. The thing is, Qalubna Ma’kum was, and still is, asking for donations to purchase medical supplies, a vehicle “to utilize as a ambulance for MedEvacs,” and intended to set up a clinic at 9th Brigade where they would take front-line casualties. Now, this all sounds very noble, and they have some slick-shit pictures on their donation page, but my bullshit detector went through the roof with this one. Let me explain why to the folks at home.
The 9th Brigade is a defensive unit in the Daquq region, meaning they don’t conduct offensive operations. Instead, they maintain their respective AO and provide support for offensive units. In other words, they don’t get enough casualties to need these things, mainly because even when casualties do occur, attached units provide legitimate medical support and take anyone who is injured to a legit hospital with qualified doctors. The best role for a volunteer with almost no medical qualifications in their background (which, from all the information out there, it appears they have none) is to embed and provide basic lifesaving care when necessary (i.e. a fucking tourniquet and patch job), and let the professional medical teams do the evac work. So this elaborate operation they were trying to set up makes very little sense in the dynamics of Peshmerga operations and would be a complete waste of resources or donations.
Now here’s the kicker: Despite all the money they have already raised, not a single piece of equipment was purchased despite some personal weapons. (I guess the issued ones weren’t good enough.) What’s more is that, out of all the claimed engagements the group has been in, none have happened, or they didn’t have anything to do with them. Every friend I have in the area has said it is dead quiet, with little to no Daesh activity. Remember, they are on the run and all their hardcore fighters are holed up in Hawija or Mosul at this point. It’s a bunch of cowardly Daesh sympathizers on the so-called “front lines” at this point in time, most of whom have been relegated to merely shooting from their villages. Launching intricate guerilla operations? No. Also the thought of them sling-shotting propane tanks at Kurds in the Kirkuk area is absolutely ridiculous (something the group claimed they experienced). Daesh has access to RPGs for days, not to mention plenty of guns and ammo. Many of the exploits mentioned on Qalubna Ma’kum’s donations page raises my eyebrows as well.
One article said that Kat and her team would go deep behind enemy lines to rescue trapped or injured Peshmerga, and that she and her team would constantly engage the enemy in combat. If it sounds like something the A-Team should be doing, trust me, it’s absolute bullshit. This would never be allowed to happen by the powers that be in the Peshmerga. They’re volunteers, not Delta Force. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gone deep into enemy lines before, but I took an entire brigade (maybe two) of Peshmerga with me. OK, maybe they took me, but semantics.
This is what Jeff, a volunteer with 9th Brigade, told me when I started asking questions:
Well, from the start, we arrived and saw them. First night, I tried to talk with Kat and her boyfriend. They didn’t give much information on themselves and acted suspicious. So instead, I talked to a member of her crew. He was American. That was when I started to got a hunch that something wasn’t right. When I arrived, I tried to say hi to her and her boyfriend, but they just walked by me and ignored me.
So I researched her and her boyfriend. Their group was featured in the Army Times and such, claiming they were fighting ISIS and setting up field hospitals. First, we all know there is no fighting in this area. We did that a while ago and pushed them back. Second, from what I saw, they haven’t set up or brought along any medical supplies. When in meetings with the general, they were asking for more weapons, vehicles, and ammo. But they already bought weapons with the donation money and were raising more for a vehicle. So it sounded like they were double-dipping, if you can say that.
Then one of the guys I’m with talked with Kat and her boyfriend. They started to talk about trying to set up a type of PMC business. Also, she planned to write a book about all this; that was her plan when they were in Donbas. She was the face and spokesperson for their group, because he pretty much had a bad background. If they couldn’t do business in Kurdistan, they would even go to the Iraqi Army and do business with them.
They were afraid we would get in the way of their business. But once Heloisa came in, they started claiming they brought her in. Once she found this out, they then claimed they were asked by Col. Tariq to take care of her and such. But it was Col. Tariq who asked us when she first arrived to greet her and help her if she needed it.
All the while, we were informed they hadn’t left the base for a month and been to the front line a few times only for a photoshoot. Kat and her boyfriend just stayed in a separate room from their team and tried to set up donation pages and stories. Then, a few days later, two journalists she knew from her time in Russia came by, only to take pictures of her and write her story—never once interviewing anyone else.
Col. Ratio said the Asayish (the official security organization of Rojava) might have. All of a sudden, Kat started to finally talk to her group following a sudden incident with an American named Micheal Wagnon who was beaten with a rifle buttstock, and the general finding out they had money. They left real quick. All during this time, they really wanted Peshmerga badges and car plates to drive around while transporting weapons. We had to give our passports multiple times to the general; that might have also made them nervous.”
Heloisa Jaira (a female Peshmerga volunteer) spoke out against a post made by the group on Facebook (excuse her English, it’s actually quite good for the average Kurdish fighter) for it being a bold-faced lie as well. Heloisa had this to say in her post:
EXPOSING TRUTH with evidence – feeling sad, very disappointed. Clark is Kat’s journalist been brought by her here and the young professional follows her instructions. Screenshot statement, a manipulation and LIE. I belong to Pershmerga Kurdistan and I am a Pershmerga volunteer only. I was treating the family ON BEHALF OF PERSHMERGA I am NOT a volunteer to Qalubna Ma’kum, Kat organization, in fact I met her only about 6 days ago. Pershmerga, YPJ, and YPG knows me for a very long time. I will take to International Court anyone writing false statements. Stop using Pershmerga for personal gains. Pray not to cross me in the army base…. this is East not West…..”
This post by her included several screenshots of a conversation over Messenger between her and Qalubna Ma’kum. It’s clear that a power trip is happening.
A clash between the group and a Western volunteer attempting to out them occurred earlier in the month. The Facebook page “International Peshmerga Volunteers – IPV” had this to say in a public announcement:
It has been brought to our attention that incidents have been occurring with another group currently operating in country, they are known as Qalubna Ma’kum which we feel needs highlighted to how poorly they operate and also to highlight the fact it is imperative you check where your funding is going and what is being done with it.
Qalubna Ma’kum’s co leader Kat Argo (Alias) and her partner Guillaume Cuvelier have recently assaulted a fellow Western volunteer; he is now currently recovering in hospital after the assault.
We have included quotes on the incident which occurred.
He was butt-stroked with the AK-47.
Kat argo’s French boyfriend did the work while Kat Argo stood there arms crossed cheering her boyfriend on”.
We do not condone this type of action and find it highly deplorable and it will be dealt with, the information we currently have is that INTERPOL is now looking into this.
We wish you a speedy recover, please share.”
Jeff, in regards to this event said:
Dude, they beat this guy down because he was going to expose the truth. They lured him into the room Kar and Gillie sleep in and beat him down. The Peshmerga heard screaming from the guy and investigated. When in the general’s office, Kat had a smirk on her face, thinking they got away by claiming he tried to kill them. But she got really scared when I caught her looking at me and I tapped my nose.”
Before coming to Kurdistan, the group was actively involved with pro-Russian separatists fighting in the Ukraine conflict, and has ties to ultranationalist movements in France as well. A dream team indeed.
Qalubna Ma’kum has since been kicked out of 9th Brigade. This just brings me full circle to my old article about staying home if you’re a volunteer here for the wrong reasons. It’s not going to go the way you think it will.