Put away the adrenaline and testosterone.
In the six days and five nights we were in northeast Syria we heard not a single shot fired, nor saw a single bomb drop. The flak jackets and helmets we brought with us never left their bags.
We went to a variety of places in northeastern Syria. It involved hours in the car with our drivers, Fahd and Mustafa. Fahd talked and talked and talked and was particularly fascinated with stories about the Arab dictators I had met. He laughed when I told him the only time I had seen Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in person, at a press conference in 2000 in Cairo with then-President Hosni Mubarak, he seemed awkward, uncomfortable and inexperienced.
Fahd particularly enjoyed listening to my recollections of meeting Saddam Hussein, and interviewing his psychotic, murderous son Udai, who made my blood run cold with his blank, cold stare which said, “I could kill you as easily as I could kill a fly.”
Mustafa spent a lot of time talking and singing to himself as he chain-smoked. Both he and Fahd drove with reckless abandon. But despite many close calls on the dark, potholed, bumpy roads, we survived unscathed.
On our first full day we went to the northwestern city of Al-Hassakeh and met with Lewand Rojava, a commander of the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). He is 35 years old and before the war traded in building materials.
Today Rojava commands what is, for all intents and purposes, the most effective force fighting ISIS. He was quick to acknowledge the help of the warplanes of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, which have been hitting ISIS targets in this part of Syria since last year.
Rojava wouldn’t go into detail but told me his forces “coordinate closely at the highest levels” with the coalition – though he did have a complaint about the material support he and his men had received from the coalition.
“The assistance we’ve received,” he said, “has been ammunition for Kalashnikovs, for heavy machine guns, for mortars, but we haven’t received any weapons.”
He was coy about reports U.S. Special Forces would soon be deployed in this part of Syria. “You know more than I do,” he said unconvincingly.