A former British infantryman is among the ever expanding group of Britons joining the ranks of westerners travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight Islamic State militants.

James Hughes, from Reading, is currently in Rojava, northern Syria, helping to fight to defend the besieged city of Kobani. He is not the first of these de facto “mercenaries” who are fighting alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units; but he is the first confirmed former British soldier in Syria fighting ISIS of his own volition.

According to his Facebook profile, Hughes served in Afghanistan three times and left the army this year after five years’ of service to his country. He is fighting the Islamic State forces alongside his friend Jamie Read, from Newmains, whose Facebook page reveals that he trained with the French army. In a show that Facebook really is everywhere he describes having been involved in fierce gunfights against jihadists last week through social media.

Stories of this nature may well have inspired a 17-year-old woman from Haringey, north London, who travelled by Eurostar last week and was last seen in Belgium believed to be making her way to Syria. If she does in fact make it to Syria she will be the first suspected female Briton to join the struggle against the Islamic State as a combatant. The Metropolitan police are looking into whether the teenager, of Kurdish descent, is planning to offer humanitarian assistance or join the ranks of the Kurdish YPG, or Women’s Defence Units, which is battling Islamic State forces in Kobani.

This new story does highlight the dynamic of Britons fighting against one another in another country. Another two Britons, both from London, have reportedly been killed fighting for the Islamic State in Kobani during the past two days. Abu Abdullah al-Habashi, 21, and Abu Dharda, 20, were thought to have died in the latest ongoing offensive by jihadists to seize the city.

The Britons appear to have been recruited by an American called Jordan Matson on behalf of the “Lions of Rojava”, which is run by the Kurdish YPG movement, or People’s Protection Units. On Facebook, Read outlines that he has been in fighting in northern Syria, writing on Thursday that the “shit hit the fan my ass was going 5 to 10 lol”, to which Matson replied: “It’s always interesting the first time you have a bullet fly past your head.” The truly blasé attitude with which these men treat life and death is astounding and humbling. Men willing to fight and die for an idea should be praised for this kind of courage, or perhaps insanity.

Kurdish sources estimate that dozens may have gone from Britain to the Middle East, with an unknown number killed in action. The Home Office said that it does “not hold data on British nationals fighting with the Kurds in Syria/Iraq”. Experts estimate that about 500 Britons have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for jihadists.