I am based in North East Syria and my job requires me to have oversight over this region, plus the Eastern region of Iraq (Nineveh, Mosul, etc.). North East Syria was the capital of the ISIS Caliphate until it was liberated and though there remain pockets of fighters, it is relatively peaceful compared to two years ago. There has been a lot of destruction in the last year or so, partly as a result of the occupation by ISIS and partly from the aerial campaign waged by coalition forces to evict them. The shelling and bombing has rendered much of the urban areas in Raqqa, Tabqa and Deir ez Zoor extremely dangerous with destroyed buildings and infrastructure and for the most part there are few schools or medical facilities, etc. and often the roads are impassable. In addition there is a lot of UXO (unexploded ordinance) remaining in the form of landmines that were laid and booby-trapped by ISIS as they fled. The photos are not of the best quality but it is still a volatile place and pictures are often very challenging to take!
APARTMENTS RAQQA CITY 2019
One of the major challenges is actually getting to North East Syria. It is a 'no fly' zone so air travel after Iraq is not an option. The border north with Turkey is closed and hostile, so no joy there. To the south is Assad-controlled regime territory, actively at war with North East Syria so no chance of getting in from that side and to the West is Aleppo, so badly shelled it is now impassable. The only option is to cross the Tigris from Iraq: sadly there was no bridge so that was job number one - build a bridge to cross the Tigris river!
My team, putting the finishing touches to the bridge, built with US Army 'building blocks' to create a floating pontoon - we completed this in July and since then, approximately 1.8 million people have crossed, with around 400,000 trucks bringing in humanitarian supplies.
It's not all doom and gloom though. There is a lot of beauty and hope here too, despite the ravages of the war.
A view from North East Syria across to the mountains of Turkey and Iraq at sunset.
People are traumatised but resilient and occasionally things go well and you can see a real difference in the lives of the population. To date we have successfully rebuilt over 400kms of roads, rebuilt three hospitals, opened over 100 new schools and established safe places and centres for women and children traumatised by the war. In addition, today we reached our 12 month target of 2 million tonnes of food aid distributed - after just 7 months, which is great.
We also established 8 camps for displaced families with heating, sanitation and food as well as classes and training centres.
Kids in school - Hassakeh February 2019
Learning to play again - Deir ez Zoor (Displaced orphaned children) Feb.2019
And finally - Ahmed with a smile to warm your heart, proud to show his wonderful drawing.