KHABUR VALLEY, Syria -- A Kalashnikov rifle slung over his shoulder, 21-year-old Ninos Akhtiar jumped into the back of a Toyota pickup truck with three other fighters from a Christian Assyrian militia. The vehicle drove through the northeastern Syrian town of Tal Tamr, bathed in a soft golden light.
As dusk approached, the surrounding countryside looked peaceful -- but appearances are deceiving. The fields have become a no-man's-land and the Khabur River, a front line.
"Over there, it's the Russians. These are the positions of the Syrian regime. Here, the People's Protection Units [YPG, the Kurdish forces]. The Americans patrolled two days ago. And opposite to us, it is the Turkish-backed groups," Akhtiar, pointing his finger toward different villages, told al-Monitor.
A mischievous smile appeared on his youthful face: "It's like the World Cup!"
Akhtiar was 15 years old when he first took up arms and joined a self-defense group attached to the Kurdish forces. In the Christian valley of Khabur -- his "homeland" -- a long battle was waged against the Islamic State (IS). The self-proclaimed "caliphate" was finally driven out of the region and ended up collapsing in March with the recapture of Baghouz, the last shred of territory that was still under its control.
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