Baghouz in ruins after Syrian forces’ victory against IS

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are on the ground in Baghouz amidst the debris from the battle against the Islamic State group, the day after they announced the end of the jihadists’ nearly five-year-old “caliphate”.

US coalition envoy congratulates the SDF forces for the defeat of IS

US coalition envoy William Roebuck congratulates the Syrian people and Syrian Democratic Forces for their victory over the Islamic State (IS) group during a ceremony at al-Omar military base. SOUNDBITE

The Final Victory In The Battle Against ISIS Is Now In Sight (HBO)

From gun trenches in the hills overlooking the Syrian town of Baghuz, US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF rain down automatic weapons fire on what’s left of the Islamic State caliphate.

After being driven out of Mosul in 2017, ISIS has been pushed back – mile-by-mile, through fierce fighting – from nearly all the territory it used to control in Syria into a tiny patch of land on the Euphrates river near the border with Iraq.

SDF commanders like Adnan Afrin say the full territorial victory they’ve spent years fighting for is finally now in sight: “this sprawling organization that stunned the world has crumbled and is close to being defeated. It’s been painful, and difficult – from the day Isis started to this moment…but it’s ending now.”

The SDF advance has been slowed by the number of women and children that have streamed out of ISIS-controlled areas since the bombardment started. More than 60,000 people have left during the course of the siege.

On Wednesday, SDF officials said they were in control of most of the encampment with just a small group of ISIS fighters left inside, surrounded and outnumbered. But from rooftops on the outskirts of Baghuz, SDF snipers continue to take out targets, while 50-caliber machine guns rain down fire from above and US jets patrol the skies overhead.

The battle is almost over, but for now ISIS fighters are still refusing to stop clinging on to their last tiny piece of territory.

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First pictures of ISIS camp near Baghouz liberated by SDF after intense battle

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Fight against ISIS continues in Baghouz as SDF forces are slowed down by mines & tunnels

SDF commander said the Kurdish-led fighters were being slowed by mines, tunnels and concerns over harming women and children among the militants.

Speaking to reporters outside Baghouz, the commander expressed hope that the operation against ISIS in Syria might finish in the next few days.

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2 Guys From Brooklyn Went To Syria To Fight ISIS. Now They’re Back (HBO)

Christopher is a former bike racer and photographer currently working as a metalworker in Brooklyn. His roommate, Chris, works as a theatre director. It’s a big change from a year ago, when both of them were in Syria, fighting the Islamic State as part of a Kurdish militia.

One year ago the U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), finished a four month campaign to push ISIS out of its Syrian capital, Raqqa. Official American involvement in Raqqa was limited to airstrikes and small teams of elite special forces troops. But the YPG, a socialist Kurdish militia, didn’t have the same limitations, drawing hundreds of foreign, less-than-experienced fighters to its ranks.

Signing up was easy — both men found applications on Google. That’s also how they met, while fighting for the YPG, and they were there on the day Raqqa officially changed hands. (After hearing rumors that ISIS had placed a bounty on the heads of foreign fighters, Chris and Christopher requested to be identified only by their first names or Kurdish noms de guerre.)

“Most of the time it was super boring,” said Christopher. Chris says he read the “whole cannon” of Shakespeare during his time in Syria.

And like many foreign fighters, Chris decided to hide his involvement in the Syrian war, avoiding social media, and only telling close friends and family where he was. Christopher, on the other hand, took a slightly different approach, building a small Instagram following, where he posted updates from the battle in Raqqa and propagandized in support of Kurdish revolutionaries.

VICE News Tonight met Christopher and Chris in New York to ask what exactly compelled them to run off to Syria to fight for the Kurdish cause.

This segment originally aired October 17, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

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These Brooklynites Went To Fight ISIS In Syria. Now, They’re Back. (HBO)

Christopher is a former bike racer, photographer who’s now a metalworker. Chris, his roommate in Brooklyn, New York, is a theatre director.

But a year ago they took a break from their jobs and went to Syria, to fight the Islamic State.

Despite the thousands of ISIS fighters that foreign recruits, official American involvement in Raqqa was limited to airstrikes and small teams of elite special forces troops. But the YPG, a socialist Kurdish militia that dominated the SDF coalition, also drew hundreds of foreign, less experienced fighters. The two Brooklynites, Christopher and Chris, met while fighting for the YPG and were there on the day Raqqa officially changed hands.

Before traveling to Syria, Christopher spent most of his time with bikes, racing and fixing them, while Chris dedicated himself to Shakespearean theatre. Like many foreign fighters, Chris decided to hide his involvement in the Syrian war, avoiding social media, and only telling close friends and family where he was.Christopher, on the other hand, built a small Instagram following where he posted updates from the battle in Raqqa and propagandized in support of Kurdish revolutionaries.

VICE News Tonight met Christopher and Chris, in New York, to ask what compelled them to fight for the Kurdish cause.

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