Inside Syria: Roadtrip across a war-torn nation

By Ben Wedeman, CNN

Updated 6:03 AM ET, Wed December 9, 2015
inside syria 08inside syria 08
1 of 16
Officials say more than 70% of the buildings in the Syrian city of Kobani have been damaged or destroyed. Kurdish officials say they've already removed 1.6 million tons of rubble. Kareem Khadder/CNN
The Muhajar brothers -- Yusif, 3, Mustafa, 8, and Ali, 11 -- in front of their partially destroyed house in Kobani. As someone pointed out to CNN's Ben Wedeman, the expressions from youngest to oldest go from smiling to frowning. Ben Wedeman/CNN
A young resident of Al-Houl, whose extended family of 40 is hoping to return home. They're staying in other abandoned homes a few kilometers away. Kurdish officials say most of the residents of Al-Houl fled with ISIS. Kareem Khadder/CNN
More Kobani ruins. They go on block after block after block. Kareem Khadder/CNN
Two members of the YPK, the Kurdish "Women's Defence Units," on the front lines south of Al-Houl, in Al-Hassakeh province. Kareem Khadder/CNN
A sign left by ISIS on the main street in Al-Houl urging -- or perhaps better, ordering -- women to be completely veiled. Kareem Khadder/CNN
A young resident of Kobani. She stood by her father, Mustafa Ismail, who watched silently for hours as a bulldozer hauled away the remains of his three-story house. Kareem Khadder/CNN
Mustafa Ismail, a construction worker, tells CNN's Ben Wedeman: "I worked thirty years to build this house, and it was destroyed in a matter of seconds. What can we do? We have to rebuild." Kareem Khadder/CNN
17-year-old Hamouda is a Kobani resident whose hobby is raising pigeons -- a pastime banned by ISIS because it's a waste of time. He fled with his family to Turkey across the border during the five-month battle for Kobani. Kareem Khadder/CNN
The view from Hammouda's pigeon perch. The reconstruction effort in Kobani has come to a screeching halt after Turkey closed its border, depriving the town of the building materials it desperately needs. Kareem Khadder/CNN
These children stopped playing on top of the ruins of a school to pose for this photo. They thought the CNN crew were funny. They laughed. Kareem Khadder/CNN
Despite the destruction, Kobani residents are trying revive their town. Businesses are reopening and people are returning to what's left of their homes. Kareem Khadder/CNN
Ali Mattar, a farmer, wants to return to his home in Al-Houl and resume a normal life. "I can't understand why we aren't allowed home," he said. A Kurdish official assured him as soon as the town is cleared of mines and booby traps, he will be able to do so. Kareem Khadder/CNN
ISIS' courthouse in Al-Houl, previously a school. The building also housed offices for an ISIS charity, with empty boxes marked "shoes" sent from an Islamic charity in Durban, South Africa. Kareem Khadder/CNN
Ben Wedeman interviewing an Armenian store owner in Al-Qamishli, one of the last cities in Syria to have been spared widespread death, destruction, and the sting of sectarian strife. He employs a Muslim Arab refugee from Dair Al-Zour who fled ISIS, which controls most of that city. Kareem Khadder/CNN
Lewand Rojava, a 35-year old commander of the Kurdish YPG, the Peoples' Defense Units -- arguably the most effective fighting force in the war on ISIS in Syria. Kareem Khadder/CNN