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Expendables: Kurdistan's old soldiers flock to the battlefield to fight ISIS

  • kurdishfighters.jpg

    Gen. Abdula Musla (back row, second from left), also known as the "Dark Lion," is perhaps the peshmerga's most decorated warrior. (Matt Cetti-Roberts) (© Matt Cetti-Roberts/info@frontlinepictures.com all rights reserved.)

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    A portrait of Gen. Musla, taken at a peshmerga base located outside the Iraqi town of Toozkhurmatu. (© Matt Cetti-Roberts/info@frontlinepictures.com all rights reserved.)

They’re the Kurdish version of “The Expendables,” old soldiers coming out of retirement to rejoin the ranks of Kurdistan’s legendary Peshmerga fighters.

Like the rough-and-ready has-beens in the Hollywood movie franchise, Kurds in their 50s and 60s -- lawyers, taxi drivers, restaurant owners and retirees from as far away as Sweden and England – now carry guns alongside younger generations of Peshmerga, which means “Those who face death.” This mix of young fighters and grizzled veterans of decades of wars with Saddam Hussein’s army, Turks and tribal fighting has made the Kurdish fighting force a formidable front against the barbaric jihadists known as Islamic State (IS), formerly called ISIS.

On the front line in Tooz, a group of old soldiers gathered under the leadership of their old commander, Gen. Abdula Musla, to fight once more. Over the past 20 years they had spread far and wide, but this week, they sat together again, steeling themselves for battle.

“I have never tired of being a Peshmerga.”

- Gen. Abdula Musla, Kurdish army

“I have never tired of being a Peshmerga,” said Musla, a near mythical figure known as the “Dark Lion,” told FoxNews.com. The 64-year-old’s body bears scars of battles in the rugged mountains dating back to 1967.

A few months ago, Musla began to receive calls from men who once served under him asking that they be allowed to fight again. It is not a unique situation. In mosques everywhere, queues to enlist stretch far -- as a mixture of young and old try desperately to join this battle. Such is the demand that people are now being turned down by the army, and those who are accepted into the force are made to buy their own guns.

Abdul Kanibardi, 64, the chairman of a veterans group whose name translates roughly to Retired Peshmerga Soldiers, said the creaky volunteers have much to offer.

“One never forgets how to use a gun,” Kanibardi said, noting that many are unafraid of death and have proven willing and well-suited to lead the defense when IS attacked their lines.

What the Peshmerga, young and old, feature in courage and motivation is undermined by a lack of firepower. That may be changing, because even as European leaders meet to discuss arming the Peshmerga, the U.S. and France have already shipped several truckloads of weapons to Tooz, including U.S.-made 81-mm. mortars, heavy and light weaponry, and ammunition.

Although some might question allowing aging soldiers back into the army based solely on service they did 20 years ago, especially when the Peshmerga are turning down able-bodied men.

But younger recruits told FoxNews.com that fighting alongside the old warriors “gives them strength.” Some of the new officers say they are buoyed by the knowledge that their "heroes are alongside them” and that they will happily follow them into battle.

“Our rank is less important that our experience,” said one.

This unique trend personifies a deeply ingrained Kurdish tradition -- that of deep familial and inter-generational respect. In each unit under Musla, one retired soldier is assigned to ten younger ones.

Sherdyl Rwandzi, 49, a taxi driver from Bournmouth, England, moved back to Kurdistan six months ago at the urging of his wife and stepmother, so he could join the “battle for humanity.” He recalled his wife telling him, “If you don’t fight for your country, then the foreigners will take it -- and what will your children have left?”

Follow Benjamin Hall on Twitter @BorderlineN or visit www.hallbenjamin.com