Former Marine Kevin Howard claimed scores of kills as a sniper volunteering this year with a militia fighting Islamic State in Syria.

He wanted to help people, Howard had said this summer, especially Christians who were being persecuted for their faith just as they had been in areas where he had fought with the Marines in Iraq.

But this fall, Howard and a fellow American volunteer, Taylor Hudson, grew disillusioned with the U.S.-backed militia and decided it was time to leave the battlefield and return home. But that decision launched both men on an uncertain and still unfolding journey that highlights the odd nature of their role as soldiers fighting for a cause, not a country.

Earlier this month, Howard, 28, a heavily tattooed veteran from San Francisco, disappeared after crossing the border in Iraq. His friend Hudson then had to decide: Stay in Syria or go to Iraq in hopes of finding his missing comrade?

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