EASTERN SYRIA -- We're with Kurdish forces who are part of the last push against ISIS in eastern Syria, and desperate is the word.
The landscape is desperate -- we drove down through broken village after broken village in the freezing rain -- a brutal, dystopian nightmare. Bombed out buildings and mud. For miles. As we swept through each place, the odd dirt-covered child would poke its head from behind a burnt out car. The villages that dot the Euphrates and have been ‘liberated’ are slowly coming back to life as some refugees return. If you can call it a life.
The fight is desperate -- it sounds like the battle has come to a standstill, with the remaining fighters hold civilians hostages in the last town of Baghouz. Some are even in makeshift tents, camping out in the cold. ISIS fighters have taken to shooting their fleeing wives and children to dissuade others from doing the same, according to the U.S.-led coalition.
The pictures of children are haunting -- so many children have been born in the ‘caliphate.’ What happens to them? Especially those born to foreign women -- as we saw with Shamima Begum. Their home, for now, is freezing cold camps out in the desert.
The post-ISIS future of Syria does not look any less desperate -- especially for people who defied the regime. We asked one man what he made of U.S. troops leaving.
"Let them leave," he said. "Bashar al Assad is still president.’
And that’s the point. In many ways the ISIS fight has been a distraction. This war started when al Assad cracked down on his own people. The foreign powers that hijacked and armed the people's movement reshaped their revolution into a civil war....and finally -- as we know -- extremists provided a convenient opportunity for him to remain in power.
U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed a victory -- but no one has won here.
The Kurds who led a valiant effort against ISIS are facing the prospect of being abandoned -- left at the mercy of an increasingly aggressive Turkey. As ever, the Syrian people are the biggest losers -- many thousands which still live in camps, or inside freezing homes with no electricity, food or medicine.
When we have moved on from this story, from this broken region, the regime will go back to its mass incarcerations. Russia and Iran remain empowered. And the thousands of battle-hardened extremists that honed their bloody trade in this unforgiving conflict will once again hunker down and wait for their next chance to strike.