There are a flurry of reports coming in from Mosul, as Iraqi and Peshmerga forces continue to make progress towards recapturing Mosul. From the Associated Press:
Iraqi special forces began shelling Islamic State group positions before dawn near Bartella, a historically Christian town to the east of Mosul that they had retaken last week. With patriotic music blaring from loudspeakers on their Humvees, they then pushed into the village of Tob Zawa, about nine kilometers (5 ½ miles) from Mosul, amid heavy clashes.
It’s not going quite as easily as originally hoped, as a Peshmerga general told media it could take 2 months to liberate the city.
It’s pretty incredible to watch this unfold almost minute by minute.
We’ve grown accustomed to seeing war play out in front of our very eyes, but rarely do we get to meet the brave people behind the scenes responsible for facilitating and providing us with this crucial and invaluable service.
I actually had the chance to meet some of them when I traveled to Iraq last year to produce a short documentary, and they are currently embedded with Peshmerga on the treacherous march to Mosul.
After last week, both of them are thankful they are still alive.
I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw this picture pop up in my newsfeed:
That’s Younes. He has been embedded with Peshmerga, and some ISIS mortar rounds landed a little too close for comfort, the shrapnel from the blast badly wounding his head. He assures me he is ‘ok’ now and doing fine. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s all bandaged up and back out in the field.
Ahmed, also embedded with Peshmerga, was involved in a harrowing ordeal in which nearly two dozen ISIS militants ambushed their armored vehicle. He explained the incident in a video text message:
He discusses how, while riding in along with Peshmerga, they were ambushed by about 20 ISIS militants. Bullets peppered their vehicles until Peshmerga were able to regroup and eliminate the threat. He explains that it wasn’t in God’s plan for him to die just yet, and he credits God with saving his life.
In another video, he shows us a child’s backpack left behind in a hurry as they fled the fighting – the sound of gunfire in the video is almost an afterthought.
This is all happening on the outskirts of Mosul, as the forces begin slowly but surely marching forward until they get to ground zero. It’s only going to get uglier as the end draws near for ISIS in Mosul.
It’s amazing the type of bond that can be forged in a very short time based on a shared experience. I now call Younes and Ahmed my brothers — even though we only spent six days together.
Ahmed Dilshad Saraj was our camera guy, and we jokingly called him ‘ISIS face’ after a Peshmerga army general told him he had the face of ISIS. He learned to speak english by watching American action films – true to form, all of his catch phrases are ripped directly from Hollywood.
He’s got a heart of gold: here he is after we filmed an interview with a frightened old woman who had been terrorized by ISIS.
Ahmed couldn’t hold it together. It was a tough day, but the humanity he showed was beautiful.
Younes Mohammed was our fixer. He is a world class photographer – here’s one of his photos he recently posted to Facebook from the front near Mosul:
More from his incredible portfolio:
My Story in Indian Photo Festival – Hyderabad
Sep 29 to Oct 09 pic.twitter.com/3kBe0hkzge
— Younes Mohammad (@younesagha) September 9, 2016
We loved this guy from the start.
He was calm, on point, pleasant, and an all around decent human being. I recall one instance, as we were driving in the middle of the night through the mountains, he kept hitting the brakes and trying to avoid the mice and snakes darting across the road. We’d been in the car for hours and hours, trekking across Iraq on our way to the front – so I was a little punchy. I asked, rhetorically, why bother slowing down for mice.
His reply? “Because all life created by God is precious and has value.”
This is a man who has been covering war zones for decades – instead of being desensitized to death and destruction, he is even more acutely aware of the inherent value life has.
Didn’t hurt that his gallows humor game was solid, too. The line that became the highlight of our trip was his not so assuring assurance that ‘This area is very, very dangerous. ISIS snipers and mortar fire. But don’t worry, it’s safe.’
Dangerous but safe? Classic. Here he is using the punchline after a too close for comfort mortar round:
#Isis shooting us in Sinjar by mortar but we are safe @JasonButtrill @DanAndros pic.twitter.com/W0lKYXULqG
— Younes Mohammad (@younesagha) October 14, 2015
And now, both of my brothers are likely using that punchline once again to take the edge off at the front in Mosul.
These photos were from the early days of the offensive as Peshmerga establish a perimeter around Mosul.
Ahmed on the front.
There are many more fixers, camera ops, journos and more like Younes and Ahmed who are currently putting themselves in harms way so you and I can be informed and, more importantly, moved by these images.
Be thankful for them. Pray for them. And may God protect them.