KOBANE, Syria -- Block after block of homes, shops and restaurants lie in ruins in the northern Syrian city of Kobane, now quiet after four months of relentless fighting between ISIS militants and Kurdish forces on the ground, and the U.S.-led coalition jets dropping bombs from above.
It’s hard to find a structure in this once peaceful city on the border with Turkey that hasn't been touched. Next to flattened apartment buildings stand shops with their storefronts shattered, outside there are deep craters in the middle of the streets.
Unexploded shells lie buried where they landed and the stench of decomposing bodies wafts through the air from the corpses of ISIS fighters that have yet to be collected.
Virtually all of this Kurdish city’s residents fled to Turkey to escape the fighting, over 200,000 filling refugee camps along the border. Few have returned. With around 70 percent of the city destroyed, there’s almost nothing to come back to.
But despite the post-apocalyptic landscape, the few still in the city are relishing the ISIS defeat.
"I feel victory," local journalist Mustafa Mohammed Ali, who stayed in Kobane during the four months of fighting, told ABC News as he walked amid the destruction. "Kobane sent a message for all over the world: If you resist you can win."
Since late September, the U.S.-led coalition carried out more than 700 air strikes on ISIS targets in and around the city, more than any other place in Syria and Iraq. With fighting visible from the Turkish side of the border, U.S. officials admitted the battle was less about the strategic fight than the symbolism of defeating ISIS, whose forces and weapons surrounded the town.
“We said a long time ago Kobane was not strategically important to us,” the head of Centcom, Gen. Lloyd Austin, told the Wall Street Journal. “But it is awfully important to him [ISIS]… In that alone, we have taken out over 2,000 of his troops, which is a phenomenal sacrifice.”
In October, ISIS released a video claiming they had almost completely overrun Kobane. Kidnapped British journalist John Cantlie appeared in the town, claiming ISIS fighters were simply “mopping up now.”
But on Saturday, ISIS-linked media released another video admitting defeat “because of the bombardment and the killing of some brothers.”
"The warplanes did not leave any construction. They destroyed everything, so we had to withdraw and the rats advanced,” a fighter said, according to The Associated Press, adding that ISIS “will stay.”
Indeed, fighting can still be heard a few miles from the center of Kobane in the villages surrounding the city where Kurdish fighters are still battling ISIS.
But in the city, journalist Ali said, the focus is on rebuilding and returning to normal life, adding that he hopes foreign financial assistance will follow the ISIS defeat.
"We beg the international community to send aid for Kobane to help in rebuilding," he said.