Hareth Najem fled the last enclave ISIS in eastern Syria wounded and alone. The Iraqi orphan’s family had died two years earlier in air strikes across the border in al-Qaim region.
“I had two brothers and a sister. They all died, and then I was by myself,” Hareth told Reuters, tears filling his eyes. “My little sister, I loved her a lot. I used to take her with me to the market.”
Lying in a cattle truck beside another injured boy at a desert transit point for US-backed forces, he huddled under a blanket. His face was covered in dirt and the side of his head wrapped with bandages covering wounds incurred days earlier.
Hareth was 11 years old when ISIS carved out its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, killing thousands of civilians and attracting an array of enemies that have fought from the air and on the ground to uproot the extremists.
Now 16, he was among the children swept up this week in the civilian evacuation of Baghouz, the last shred of land under the extremists’ control where they are on the brink of defeat at the hands of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).