KOBANI, Syria (AP) – One of the few signs of life in this northern Syria border town is the old bakery, revived by Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State group.
Closed down for some 20 years, the production line now bakes two tons of doughy bread every day to energize the fighters and feed the spatter of civilians left behind.
“We came and fixed up (the bakery) for use in these difficult times,” said Fathi Misiro, a fighter with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, who works in the bakery. “Ten days ago…it was worse here. We’ve been helping people and sending bread to them daily.”
An exclusive report shot by a video journalist inside Kobani late last month offered a rare, in-depth glimpse of the destruction that more than two months of fighting has inflicted on the Kurdish town in northern Syria by the Turkish border.
Outside the bakery, children playfully jump in and out of foxholes – barely fazed by the thunderous explosions nearby. Kobani as it was has been virtually erased. Rubble is all that remains of people’s homes and their memories. Shops are gutted. Schools are flattened.
Kurdish fighters backed by small numbers of Iraqi peshmerga forces and Syrian rebels are locked in what they see as an existential battle against the Islamic State group, which swept into their town in mid-September. The advance was part of a summer blitz after the Islamic State group overran large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
The YPG, an armed secular faction, is at the forefront of the struggle to save Kobani.
Helped by more than 270 airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition and an American airdrop of weapons, the Kurds have succeeded in halting the militants’ advance and believe that a corner has been turned.
But the battle comes at a heavy price for the town’s remaining residents. While most managed to flee across the nearby border with Turkey, some 2,000 Kurdish civilians opted to stay with the hope that fighting will soon subside.
It is a small fraction of the population of 50,000 that once filled these streets.
They sleep in their cars or makeshift tents on the outskirts of the town, where barbed wire and land mines mark the Turkish border. Militant-fired mortars rain down on them regularly.
Some farmers escaped with their machinery and livestock. Others lost everything.
“My sheep were taken. I lost my cow, for God’s sake, my hens, my bedding, our sacks of wheat were stolen,” one woman said, expressing gratitude for the bread the YPG fighters are providing.
Then, there are those who lost loved ones as the militants moved in. Another woman named Parvin had to carry her two injured daughters to safety after they were hit by mortar fire. Her 7-year-old was then sent to Turkey and died there.
“We brought her body back and buried her here in Kobani,” said Parvin, her heartache written on her face. She asked to be identified only by her first name.