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World

Syria Photographer Covers The Fall Of ISIS

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yesterday, the Trump administration declared victory over the Islamic State in Syria, ending a long battle against militants in the region. Still, some say the fight is not over.

FELIPE DANA: The official declaration of victory is - to me is mostly of a symbolic value because thousands of ISIS fighters are still around Syria and Iraq. We know that there are still thousands of fighters in this region. So I think ISIS lost their territory, and this is a very big thing. But it's definitely not over.

MARTIN: That's Felipe Dana. He is a photojournalist who spent years covering the fight against ISIS.

DANA: Some days, we saw over 4,000 people being evacuated out of this tiny village in Syria where they didn't expect to have as many people there at all. They were coming out of tunnels, makeshift tents. And these evacuations were very dramatic.

MARTIN: Something Dana witnessed firsthand. He says his most compelling photos came in the last few weeks as people were being processed by the Syrian defense forces, the SDF

DANA: So they had these huge, long queues of people walking through a checkpoint in the middle of the desert. Sometimes that happened at night, and it was completely dark. Only - they were only illuminated by headlights of the cars, of the SDF trucks and cars.

MARTIN: With the Syrian defense forces now in control, Dana says he is cautiously optimistic.

DANA: So these are liberated villages where people have returned. But what happens is these people return, and - but also some ISIS supporters or members there come back as well. So although the territory is not controlled by ISIS anymore, and there is a presence of SDF forces, these forces on the ground are being attacked by ISIS sleeper cells and - or militants there returning.

MARTIN: Dana says what happens now will be pivotal, especially for the people who are often the subject of his photographs, women and children.

DANA: The amount of women and children being evacuated from these areas is insane, OK? We're talking about tens of thousands of people, and they're all being taken to camps. And many of these are foreigners. Every day, I saw dozens of foreigners among these groups. And we don't know what's going to happen to them now and if - what kind of education and what kind of a - if they will be integrated with the society again and how that's going to happen.

MARTIN: Felipe Dana is a photojournalist for The Associated Press who's been covering the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.