RAS AL AYN, SYRIA —
Control of the border town Ras al Ayn has changed hands throughout Syria's civil war. Kurdish fighters are in control now and have been holding out against formidable odds as Islamic State fighters besiege the town from two sides.
An IS stronghold lies just to the south. Kurdish brigades can train their heavy guns against this fixed target, but IS militants roam freely not far away.
Even with the Islamic State on their doorstep, the Kurdish Protection Units in Ras al Ayn, known by Kurds as Serekaniye, are buoyed by success elsewhere in their self-declared Rojava region — especially the routing of IS from nearby Kobani.
Perwer, a commander of the Women's Protection Units, said, "We have been fighting all over Rojava. Our fight is not only in Serekaniye. We are fighting from Te Kocher [in the northeast] to Efrin [in the northwest]. We are trying to eliminate IS so our people can live in freedom."
Perwer wants the U.S.-led coalition that launched airstrikes on IS in Kobani to expand its mission.
"We call on the international community involved in fighting IS to come to our aid in this region as well," she said.
Ras al Ayn has been a battleground for much of Syria's civil conflict: Kurdish Protection Units against moderate rebels against government forces against extremists.
Four years in, the morale of Kurdish fighters is high. For brief moments, they can even let down their guard.
Fighter Hogir, however, vows they "won't let IS take a rest."
“Our operations have improved recently," he said. "We shouldn’t give the enemy an opportunity to defend itself, because if they do so, they would make gains on the ground. We should use all types of weapons, light and heavy, in order to carry out successful operations. This is our homeland. The enemy doesn’t belong here.”
As Syria continues to shatter, Kurds are determined to keep holding ground. And in Ras al Ayn, for now, they are.