Yesterday we entered the Old City, one street away from the last pockets of ISIS resistance in Mosul. The destruction here is beyond anything I’ve seen.
The fighting is so intense—there were around 20 airstrikes Sunday alone, all of them targeting an area barely half a square mile in size. One airstrike hit a few dozen meters from our position at the al-Nuri mosque, with shrapnel whirling and whizzing through the air like so many throwing knives. I’ve never been so glad to walk away with my head still attached to my neck.
There are maybe 20,000 people still trapped in ISIS-held parts of the Old City. The day before we arrived, three women—allegedly Russian “black widow” bombers—were strapped up with suicide vests. They blew themselves up near a checkpoint where families are fleeing.
The situation is so dangerous here, we couldn’t bring our own vehicles in. We had to embed with the Golden Division, Iraq’s elite special forces unit.
I can’t even describe the destruction. I’ve seen other places in Iraq that were destroyed by ISIS, places which, at the time, came to define the entire war for me. But that was before I saw the Old City… or what’s left of it. This place with its narrow streets and old homes, its history and architecture—there’s nothing like it. Except so much of it is gone now.
We saw a fair number of civilians still walking around the Old City. Some of them defiant—men wearing shorts after years of putting up with ISIS’s strict dress code. We saw injured and disabled people hobbling their way through the streets. Mothers, fathers, and grandmothers collapsing in exhaustion when they finally reached the military medical center near where we distributed food and water.
We saw women and children walking with no shoes on their feet—it was 112 degrees outside yesterday. You can imagine what that asphalt must have felt like. Except it wasn’t like running barefoot across the driveway to move your sprinkler. It was like a days-long escape from the worst horror film you’ve ever seen. Before drinking the cold water you provided to quench thirst after long stretches without water, some of them poured it on their blistered, burning feet.
We’re so close, just one street away from everything that’s going on. We can feel the explosions, desperation all around. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever seen. And I can say with confidence:
This is where we need to be. These are the people we need to be serving. It’s their stories we need to be hearing.
We’ll continue showing up for people in the Old City. With food and water now. With medical care to help them heal. And whenever the fighting finally comes to an end, we’ll help them rebuild—providing jobs, income, and hope.
We could not be here—and cannot continue—without each and every one of you.
I’m especially thankful for each of you who has signed up to be a monthly donor. It’s your monthly commitment that allows us to budget ahead of time, buy food and shoes and water before people arrive, so that as these waves of innocent people escape their nightmare, we are not left scrambling. And if ISIS is defeated and the needs change, it’s your monthly support that will allow us to stay the course. You are exactly what the front line needs most: fast, decisive, bold, and committed for the long-haul.