In Northern Iraq, the fight against ISIS has spread to many different theaters of war. Kurdish Peshmerga forces battle ISIS on the ground, coalition aircraft fly bombing runs, and both sides often wage cyberattacks on the opposition’s banks and social media pages. Now, thanks to an American civilian fighting with the Peshmerga outside of Mosul, Iraq, ISIS is even losing the battle on Pokémon Go.
There’s a lot of downtime on the front lines of a combat zone, so when Pokémon Go was released last week, Louis Park figured he’d download the app and see if anyone from ISIS was tough enough to throw down in a different kind of battle. Park is an American volunteer fighting with the Kurdish peshmerga forces currently battling ISIS for the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Pokémon Go may be inspiring people to make friends in real life, but we’re pretty sure that’s not going to be the case for Park on the front lines in Teleskuf, a town about 15 miles north of Mosul.
Inverse caught up with Park before he headed away from the front lines for some rest and relaxation to talk about what it’s like being a Pokémon Trainer on the front lines.
Park says he’s “about 25 kilometers [15 miles] from the center of Mosul so I can’t actually go into the city,” because “ISIL are there on the other side of the line.”
And if you’re frustrated with the glitchy, buggy performance of Pokémon Go so far, know that you’ve got it easy compared to Park. On the front lines, he says only basic smartphone functions work, and the “GPS signal is often lost,” even with an international data plan and a portable wifi network. Still, that didn’t stop him from catching a Squirtle hanging out in front of a machine gun emplacement.
Naturally, the post went viral and was deluged in “Wartortle” jokes, but Park clearly picked the right Pokémon for a battle in the desert. Squirtle’s water powers are sure to hose down any ground or sand-type Pokémon found in the desert, and ISIS’s penchant for senseless violence means they’re probably totally the kind of aggressive bros that pick Charmander first.
Unfortunately, Park said you can’t catch too many other Pokémon out on the front lines.
But in Duhok, the nearest major stable city, there’s a flourishing Pokémon underground.
“When I go back to the rear for R&R [rest and relaxation], there are gyms here and people playing in Duhok, and probably in Erbil [the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan],” Park tells Inverse. “I have yet to check it out.”
Park wasn’t sure which of Pokémon Go’s three teams held most of the gyms in Duhok. We’re willing to bet that Team Valor is likely pretty popular in the city, however, as it’s a major stronghold for Peshmerga warriors and volunteers like Park.
Park said he was headed back to the rear for a break from the fighting soon, and would check out the Pokémon Go scene in Erbil too if he got the chance. Until then, it’s good to know that Park and his Squirtle are ready for action outside Mosul.