AL-MARASHIDAH, Syria — In a deserted farmhouse on the Deir Ezzor front line, a group of Kurdish fighters and foreign volunteers — an American, a Scotsman, and a South Korean — took up position on the edge of Islamic State territory, firing wildly from the hollow windows onto ISIS fighters hiding in the orchards below.
Unseen from the house, ISIS militants crept forward into the building’s garden, launching a sudden assault on this isolated position, targeting the group with snipers, machine guns, and anti-tank rocket fire before they attempted to storm it.
After years of bloody conflict across northern and eastern Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have pushed ISIS to the brink of total defeat. The remaining ISIS fighters now wait out their days in a cluster of tiny villages nestled between the Euphrates River and the Iraqi border.
Surrounded, outnumbered, and outgunned, the jihadi group’s last die-hard fighters aren’t giving up. And they’re being met by U.S.-backed forces and foreign volunteers, many of whom have traveled thousands of miles for the final fight.
Huddling in the central stairwell for cover, deafened by the roar of rockets hitting the rooms around them, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters argued furiously over their next move.
“We’re surrounded,” shouted a YPG fighter. “We’re going to have to jump from the balcony and make a run for it.”
They quickly gathered blankets, mattresses and curtains, throwing them to the ground outside to soften their fall. Escaping through the alleyway, the fighters retreated to safety in a nearby outpost as coalition airstrikes rained down on the besieged house.
On the map, the war against ISIS is all but won. But here in the middle Euphrates River Valley, where much of the population resents the U.S.-backed forces as alien occupiers, YPG fighters are likely to face more sudden ambushes and assaults from within this dense patchwork of orchards and villages, even after the battle for Baghuz is won.
This segment originally aired March 5, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.