Reporter's Notebook: On the ground in Syria during ISIS's last stand, where desperation and sorrow pervades everything

PHOTO: Civilians fleeing the ISIS embattled holdout of Baghouz walk in a field on Feb. 13, 2019, during an operation by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to expel the group from the area, in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor.PlayDelil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH ISIS struggles to hold on to final village stronghold in war-ravaged Syria

We're with Kurdish forces who are part of the last push against ISIS in eastern Syria, and desperate is the word.

Interested in Syria?

Add Syria as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Syria news, video, and analysis from ABC News.
Add Interest

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.

PHOTO: Fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) keep position during an operation to expel ISIS jihadists from the Baghouz area in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, Feb. 13, 2019. Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images
Fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) keep position during an operation to expel ISIS jihadists from the Baghouz area in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, Feb. 13, 2019.

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.

PHOTO: Civilians fleeing the ISIS embattled holdout of Baghouz walk in a field on Feb. 13, 2019, during an operation by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to expel the group from the area, in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images
Civilians fleeing the ISIS embattled holdout of Baghouz walk in a field on Feb. 13, 2019, during an operation by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to expel the group from the area, in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor.

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.’

PHOTO: A fighter with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) keeps position during an operation to expel ISIS jihadists from the Baghouz area in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, Feb. 13, 2019. Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images
A fighter with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) keeps position during an operation to expel ISIS jihadists from the Baghouz area in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, Feb. 13, 2019.

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.

PHOTO: Women and children are seen at the back of a truck near the Omar oil field in the countryside of the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province, Jan. 25, 2019. Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images
Women and children are seen at the back of a truck near the Omar oil field in the countryside of the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province, Jan. 25, 2019.

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.

Comments