OUTSIDE BAGHOUZ, Syria -- It's always a shock to see young children injured in war. When those children are close to starving, huddled in open trucks and sitting in puddles of their own excrement, it's even more disturbing.
That's what we've just seen in the latest convoy of women and children brought out of Baghouz, Syria in an appalling state. I've never seen anything like this in my life.
These are the people who survived the shelling and bombardment we witnessed the other night, the people who lived in the Islamic State the longest, the families of die-hard ISIS fighters who have either been killed or captured.
Most of the women are covered, but their children's faces peek out from each truck, revealing the mix of cultures present -- Indonesian, Chinese, Russian and many others.
One little girl with a huge open wound on her face must have been four or five years old. Another three-year-old boy had what looked like masking tape around his hands in place of bandages. Some of their dirt-covered faces gaunt with hunger, eyes bulging.
They are all exhausted, too traumatized perhaps to even move. The children stare, as though I am an alien.
Most have only ever known life in the Islamic State. They've only ever known war and bombs and destruction and hunger. But for the ripped and bloodied tracksuits, it's like Baghouz has a portal into a war in the 12th century from which these children are escaping.
From this patch of desert they'll be sent to a camp for internally displaced persons, where thousands of others just like them are waiting, essentially abandoned. What is the world to do with all these children, who surely can't be held accountable for the actions of their parents?
And among them, somewhere, we hoped, are Yusuf and Zahra -- the children of a Florida father whose wife allegedly stole away his children to ISIS four years ago. She was killed a month ago, leaving them alone and injured. We went from truck to truck with their photo, asking after them.
Those with the energy to look up took my phone.
"Still inside," came the response.