Rukmini Callimachi @rcallimachi Correspondent for The New York Times, covering ISIS. NBC contributor. Previously, seven years in West Africa. Ex-AP bureau chief. Ex-refugee. Feb. 07, 2019 3 min read

1. Good morning everyone, today and a few days ago, @ivorprickett and I drove into the Syrian desert to the spot in a rocky field where suspected ISIS members, their wives & children are surrendering to Coalition-backed forces. Follow along: 

2. The frontline is roughly 10 km away in a village called Baghuz, where ISIS now controls an area the size of Central Park. For the last two weeks, thousands of people have been streaming out of this last slice of the caliphate in Syria, arriving at the place marked below:

3. We were at the arrival point and saw pickup trucks arrive with the escapees in the back. We’ve seen between 150 and 200 people be processed. What’s striking is we couldn’t find a single person that is actually from Baghuz. They are nearly all from somewhere else.

4. Kurdish forces told us that this is a sign that the escapees are nearly all linked to ISIS. Why would you move from say Turkey or Iraq into the crosshairs of a town controlled by the Islamic State and face Coalition bombings, unless you are a willing citizen of the caliphate?

5. When the trucks arrive, the American-backed Kurdish militia separates men from women. Next they’re made to sit in separate areas, based on nationality. American troops arrive by mid-morning and begin screening the men first. We were not allowed to photograph US troops.

6. But watching from a distance, we saw that the men are told to approach US forces single file, arms in the air. Jackets come off. Turbans are searched. One day there was a sniffer dog. They’re fingerprinted, photographed, questioned. Some are taken to prison. Most go to a camp

7. The number of overseas recruits to ISIS coming out of this pocket is stunning. This 28-year old woman, mom of two toddlers, said she was from the Lawrence Heights area of Toronto. She said her name was Dure Ahmed. She came out with a 34-year old Canadian woman from Alberta:

8. Dure said that inside the ISIS pocket, they had almost completely run out of food. She had no pampers for her toddler and talked about cutting up a sweater to create a diaper. Other women spoke of boiling this weed which grows between houses and forcing themselves to eat it:

9. Germans, French, Turks, Russians, Canadians, Azerbaijanis, Kazakhs & others have streamed out. These are some of the longest-serving citizens of the caliphate, joining in 2014, hopscotching from town to town as the group lost land. Buses came to take them to a detention camp:

10. These are ISIS families who put their children in harm’s way to follow the group. It was still hard to see the suffering. A 6-year old boy was rushed to a medic station as his pulse gave out, his body straining under multiple mortar injuries, photographed by @ivorprickett:

11. A woman in her early 20s died from a head wound sustained in an explosion soon after she arrived. They buried her at the edge of the field, where her grave was dug by members of the Coalition-backed militia. They held up their palms in a 5-second prayer:

12. Today, I interviewed an old man and his adult and son, who lost 20 members of their family in an airstrike last month. Their faces were burned. They were Iraqi from Anbar, and they swore they were not with ISIS. Then I asked what they thought about Baghdadi?

You can follow @rcallimachi.


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