The closer you get to the last bedrock of ISIS, the more obvious their impact and the more frequent the sights and stories of loss and deprivation.
ISIS is on the verge of defeat here, its fighters surrounded and under fire. But military victory will not soon heal the families ripped apart by years of the oppressive caliphate.
Furat was just 15 when ISIS took control of his hometown, Raqqa.
“My heart couldn’t take it. I couldn’t handle seeing this injustice and tyranny everywhere,” he said.
He ran away and later joined the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to fight the occupiers.
Now he is just a few miles from his old home, but his old life is gone.
He didn’t recognize them and they could barely recognize him. He had left a boy, he was now a man, a fighter.
“When I speak to them now, our conversation feels empty. There is nothing to say. I am not at ease and neither are they,” he said. “When we are safe and the battle is over, I can rejoin them again.”