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22 Pictures That Show How Complicated The Front Lines In Syria Really Are

With dozens of coalition militias fighting for control and thousands of refugees fleeing, the situation in Raqqa is far from resolved.

Posted on August 13, 2017, at 11:03 a.m. ET

Displaced Syrians in Ain Issa camp, 40 miles north of Raqqa. The camp has seen 250,000 people come through as they try to flee the fighting in Raqqa and surrounding villages.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Displaced Syrians in Ain Issa camp, 40 miles north of Raqqa. The camp has seen 250,000 people come through as they try to flee the fighting in Raqqa and surrounding villages.

BuzzFeed News sent photographer Andrea DiCenzo with Borzou Daragahi last month to Raqqa in northern Syria, where coalition forces have been trying to recapture the self-proclaimed ISIS capital while civilians flee under the cover of night to avoid being captured and killed by militants.

Raqqa has been an ISIS stronghold for the past four years, and the battle to retake control of the city has been slow. The Syrian Democratic Forces, a collection of militias and tribes led by mostly Kurdish commanders, has been struggling to force its way into the city for weeks.

"They've not been able to control or keep down a front line," said DiCenzo. "Units of 10 to 40 men occupy the top of the building but the ground floor is left unmanned. We heard a story where you have the SDF on the 4th floor and ISIS on the 3rd floor days after they cleared the building.”

In the middle of the battle are an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 civilians trapped inside the city, according to the UN. Those who fled often did so at night or with the help of smugglers. Some ended up in de facto camps after being checked for explosives and weapons by SDF to protect ISIS fighters from civilians; others travel further to a UN refugee camp. DiCenzo said people she spoke to hoped to return home soon despite the fact that no one really knows when the war will come to an end.

“People can return to their homes in the outlying villages, but no one has been able to return to Raqqa yet," she said. "When we were out on patrol, two civilians approached on a motorbike, presumably to check on their house, and were turned back. It's an active, porous front line.”

These images show what life is like for Syrians caught in the fight against ISIS, as well as for those struggling to defeat the jihadi group.

Members of SDF bring supplies to their temporary base along the western front of Raqqa.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Members of SDF bring supplies to their temporary base along the western front of Raqqa.

Mattresses (left) spill out of a demolished home in western Raqqa. SDF soldiers on patrol (right) pass an apartment also heavily damaged in an attack.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Mattresses (left) spill out of a demolished home in western Raqqa. SDF soldiers on patrol (right) pass an apartment also heavily damaged in an attack.

Kevin Howard joined the Syriac Military Council in order to fight against the Islamic State.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Kevin Howard joined the Syriac Military Council in order to fight against the Islamic State.

Members of the female Kurdish YPJ unit at a base outside of Raqqa.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Members of the female Kurdish YPJ unit at a base outside of Raqqa.

Members of the female Kurdish YPJ unit spend the night on the roof of a base outside of Raqqa.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Members of the female Kurdish YPJ unit spend the night on the roof of a base outside of Raqqa.

A Syrian Democratic Force unit comprised of only foreign fighters gear up for an offensive at night in eastern Raqqa.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

A Syrian Democratic Force unit comprised of only foreign fighters gear up for an offensive at night in eastern Raqqa.

Nearly 300 civilians wait for SDF fighters to return their identification cards and provide transportation to camps after fleeing Raqqa earlier in the day.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Nearly 300 civilians wait for SDF fighters to return their identification cards and provide transportation to camps after fleeing Raqqa earlier in the day.

A child (left) lies down with a nosebleed in Ain Issa camp after fleeing Raqqa with her family six days earlier. Doctors (right) treat a wounded SDF fighter inside the only frontline medical clinic along the eastern front of Raqqa.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

A child (left) lies down with a nosebleed in Ain Issa camp after fleeing Raqqa with her family six days earlier. Doctors (right) treat a wounded SDF fighter inside the only frontline medical clinic along the eastern front of Raqqa.


Civilians are transported to nearby refugee camps by the SDF.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Civilians are transported to nearby refugee camps by the SDF.

An SDF fighter in a makeshift clinic closes the eyes of a dead civilian who was hit with shrapnel as he was trying to flee Raqqa.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

An SDF fighter in a makeshift clinic closes the eyes of a dead civilian who was hit with shrapnel as he was trying to flee Raqqa.

British Major General Rupert Jones meets with the Raqqa Civil Council to discuss military, humanitarian, and political progress with the coalition's Syrian counterparts on July 23 in Ain Issa.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

British Major General Rupert Jones meets with the Raqqa Civil Council to discuss military, humanitarian, and political progress with the coalition's Syrian counterparts on July 23 in Ain Issa.

Civilians wait in farm fields.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Civilians wait in farm fields.

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces look down from a balcony on their new position in western Raqqa.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces look down from a balcony on their new position in western Raqqa.

A gun (left) rests against the wall of one of the Syriac Military Council sniper positions along the western front in Raqqa. Fighters (right) in the Syriac Military Council at their temporary bases along the front line of western Raqqa. The Christian militia is one of the many separate militias who are under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces participating in the Raqqa operation.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

A gun (left) rests against the wall of one of the Syriac Military Council sniper positions along the western front in Raqqa. Fighters (right) in the Syriac Military Council at their temporary bases along the front line of western Raqqa. The Christian militia is one of the many separate militias who are under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces participating in the Raqqa operation.

A fighter in the Syrian Democratic Forces surveys a location where heavy fighting occurred earlier in the day.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

A fighter in the Syrian Democratic Forces surveys a location where heavy fighting occurred earlier in the day.

Syrian Democratic Forces wait until nightfall atop a temporary position along Raqqa's front line before starting their next offensive.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Syrian Democratic Forces wait until nightfall atop a temporary position along Raqqa's front line before starting their next offensive.

An SDF fighter sleeps in a looted bedroom, which serves as another temporary position along Raqqa's eastern front.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

An SDF fighter sleeps in a looted bedroom, which serves as another temporary position along Raqqa's eastern front.

Syrian Democratic Forces, Raqqa.
Andrea DiCenzo for BuzzFeed News

Syrian Democratic Forces, Raqqa.





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