As I looked at this scene, suddenly a wire-guided rocket rose out of the valley and flew toward us, climbing and oscillating as it bore in on us. I could see the long, silver body and fins as it flew by me and turned my head to track it as it exploded into a position 20 yards to my right and behind me.
I jumped up and ran to help and saw that seven men had been hit. One of them was Zau Seng, our Kachin Free Burma Rangers (FBR) cameraman. I asked him, “Are you OK Zau?”
He said, “Sir, I am OK but not OK, a little bit hit. OK, I keep filming.”
Medics Eliya and Joseph and I began to treat the severely wounded, including three men with head injuries and two with severed arteries. The medics managed to keep all of the wounded alive and the SDF evacuated them from the front line in their pickups. After they left, Zau came up and said, “Sir, my wound, it is a little bit spicy.” Joseph and Eliya treated Zau for his leg wound, which turned out to be minor, and our team rejoined the SDF at the front.
Right away, we came under accurate machine gun fire to our front. At the same time, an ISIS element attacked us from less than 100 meters on our left flank. We returned fire and stopped the immediate attack. Over the next three days at this position, 14 from the SDF were wounded and two were killed. Our team treated all of them the best we could, and we alternated between helping the SDF at this front-line position and caring for ISIS families as they escaped into the desert northeast and behind us—and this would prove to be where our main mission was.
From Feb. 1 to March 9 on this mission, we lived in the desert, with our tents and supplies clustered inside a dirt berm dug in circle by an SDF backhoe. Several kilometers away from the city of Baghuz, we were close to the internally displaced persons (IDP) collection sites, and as the SDF checked all those who had left the fighting, we provided physical help and prayed with those we could. We also spent time on the front with the SDF, treating their wounded and helping them, but our main work was with the thousands of IDPs fleeing or being evacuated from the fighting.
Our friends in Kurdistan had enabled us to come and help in this, our eighth mission to Syria since 2016. During this time, with the help of the SDF and FBR supporters, we fed more than 25,000 people and treated more than 4,000 wounded, who came to these IDP collection points.
We provided medical care, food, water, baby formula, diapers, blankets, and shelter. At the end of the mission, we left the SDF enough food and water for 7,000 more people that we estimated were still left in Baghuz. From the beginning of February to the middle of March, more than 30,000 people fled this last ISIS stronghold. We had been told on the first day we arrived, in February, that there were only 3,000 people left in the stronghold and that the battle would be over in three days.