WWI memorial
(Eleanor Beardsley/NPR)
May 27, 2013

France Pays Tribute to Early U.S. Fighter Pilots

Every Memorial Day weekend, a ceremony takes place just outside Paris to honor a group of Americans who fought in France.

They're not D-Day veterans, but a little known group of pilots who fought for France in World War I, before the U.S. entered the war.

This year's ceremony in the tiny town of Marnes-la-Coquette began with a flyover by two French air force Mirage fighter jets from the Escadrille Lafayette, or Lafayette Squadron, paying tribute to the men who founded the group nearly 100 years ago.

"In April of 1916, seven Americans enlisted in the French military to form the corps of the Lafayette Escadrille," said Major Gen. Mark Barrett, chief of staff of the U.S.-European command, who took part in the ceremony. "The squadron grew to include 38 American pilots, led by a French officer, who's also buried here. These pilots from America and France, who banded together to form the Lafayette Escadrille, were pioneers in a new form of warfare, as aviation brought the battlefield to the skies."

The young Americans were studying in France in 1914 when World War I broke out. They wanted to volunteer and fight but couldn't join the French army because they would lose their American citizenship. The U.S. ambassador to France at the time found a way around the problem: The men could either join the French Ambulance Corps or the French Foreign Legion.

Present-day U.S. Ambassador Charles Rivkin also was on hand to honor each of the founders of the Lafayette Squadron.

A memorial to these volunteer pilots features massive marble arch walls carved with the Lafayette Squadron's insignia, the head of a Sioux Indian chief. And their major battles: at Verdun and Somme.

Mike Britt, 72, from South Carolina, says he's been fascinated by the Lafayette Squadron since he was a young boy.

"These young men were my heroes," Britt said. "Because I was fascinated by aviation and I like to build model airplanes. And the notion of young men volunteering to leave their country and fight for anybody — but in this case for France — is just a very heroic, altruistic thing which you don't find, particularly in today's world."

The monument and its vast grounds were dedicated on July 4, 1928. They're partially supported by the French and American governments, but run mostly on private donations. Treasurer Alex Blumrosen said he wishes more Americans knew about the squadron.

"They were very symbolic, they were very inspirational for the rest of the United States," he said. "And I think they were important in bringing the United States into the war and ending that conflict as quickly as they did."

Blumrosen said the Lafayette Squadron broke ground in other ways, too. For example, it had the first African-American pilot, some 30 years before the Tuskegee Aairmen.

The ceremony marked a day for French-American friendship, as the sound of the two languages floated in the air and attendees milled about — civilians and military personnel, the old and the young.

Parisian Isabelle Malard was there with her three children. She had just returned from Valdosta, Ga., where her husband took part in an exchange program with the U.S. Air Force. She said it's important for new generations to learn about the sacrifices that have been made.

"Peace is something every generation has to work for, and we can never forget this," Malard said. "I feel this particularly, because my grandfather was deported to a concentration camp during the second World War."

Malard's 8-year-old daughter, Romane, carried a U.S. flag in her hands and wore heart shaped U.S.-flag earrings. She participated in this year's ceremony.

"I was holding the flag," the girl said proudly. "I was like all the other flag porters."

All told, 250 pilots, French and American, joined the squadron. Fifty-nine were killed and are buried in a crypt below the memorial.

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Tahrir Square
(Hadi Mizban/AP)
March 17, 2013

The Iraq War: 10 Years Later, Where Do We Stand?

Ten years ago this Tuesday, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and by any count — and there have been many — the toll has been devastating.

So far, about 4,400 U.S. troops and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, and the combined costs of the war come to an astounding $2 trillion, including future commitments like veteran care.

So where do we stand today?

Stephen Hadley was the national security adviser under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009, and part of the White House team that helped sell the war to the public.

Looking back, Hadley tells NPR's Jacki Lyden, everyone — not just the White House — was wrong in citing Saddam Hussein's alleged stock of weapons of mass destruction as a reason for the invasion.

"Republicans thought he had them, Democrats thought he had them, the Clinton administration thought he had them [and] the Bush administration thought he had them," Hadley says. "We were all wrong."

Hadley says the initial invasion was a success, but what followed took longer and cost an enormous amount in terms of both lives and money. He stands by the judgment, however, that Saddam was a threat to the U.S. and the region.

Hadley also stands by an opinion he wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2010 that the U.S. would "leave behind an Iraq that would be able to govern itself, defend itself, sustain itself and be an ally in the war on terror." He says Iraq, though far from perfect, is accomplishing many of those things, but that the war in Syria is putting a lot of pressure on it.

"I think this is a country that is taking responsibility for its security both internally and externally," he says.

Regarding the human toll on both sides, Hadley admits that "clearly the situation got away from us."

"The cost of getting it back under control ... was too high in terms of dollars, in terms of lives of Americans [and] in terms of lives of Iraqis," he says. "It's one of the reasons some of us have been arguing that we need to do something to bring the war in Syria to a close."

Iraq's 'Imperfect' Leader

A memo Hadley wrote in 2006 for Cabinet-level officials caused some waves when it was leaked to the press that same year. In it, Hadley expressed concerns about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ability to combat sectarian violence.

That memo, Hadley says, was written while President Bush was considering whether to dramatically increase the number of U.S. forces in Iraq. The administration questioned whether Maliki was committed to an inclusive Iraq.

With Hadley's advisement, the president concluded he would be an inclusive leader and the decision was made to move ahead with the surge, Hadley says.

"Maliki has a lot of challenges, he's an imperfect leader," he says. "But I think he met the test that was set out in that memo and the president was confident that Maliki would be a partner in the surge that ultimately brought an end to hostilities in Iraq."

The War's Lasting Scars

Even though the war officially ended in December 2011, there are those who still live with its legacy and always will.

Shannon Meehan is a veteran living in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and three young sons. In 2007, Meehan was 24 and a tank platoon leader in the city of Baqubah.

Meehan was on a mission to re-establish control in one of the country's most dangerous sectors, he tells Lyden, when his soldiers came upon a house they believed to be booby-trapped.

"I called in a mortar strike in what I thought was an effort to protect the lives of my soldiers," Meehan says.

The mortar rounds destroyed the house, but Meehan's relief at hitting the target quickly changed.

"We received word that there was an innocent family ... huddled inside that house that I'd just destroyed," he says. "Trying to reconcile what I'd just done ... I was just overwhelmed with disbelief and guilt immediately."

Meehan says he struggles with the memory of that incident every day. Now retired, he lives with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. He wrote about his experiences in a memoir, Beyond Duty: Life on the Frontline in Iraq.

Meehan is far from alone living with his invisible wounds. The National Council on Disabilities says up to 40 percent of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from one of these "signature injuries."

Aymen Salihee lives in Baghdad, 6,000 miles from Meehan. Like Meehan, the 37-year-old civil engineer is a father to young boys. He suffers from a different Army mistake.

In 2005, an American sniper in Baghdad shot Salihee's brother, Yasser, by mistake. Yasser was driving when he made a wrong turn onto a street that had been cleared by soldiers.

"Suddenly, he faced two American soldiers," Salihee says. "One of them shot in the front of his car, and the other shot him directly in his head, without any warning shots from the Americans."

Though time has passed, Aymen Salihee is pessimistic about Iraq's future.

"It's not good; it's not better," he says. "At this time, it makes no difference between Saddam's regime and now."

Iraq Today

American taxpayers have spent about $60 billion on rebuilding Iraq, and a Boston University tally finds about $8 billion has been requested for Iraq spending this year. A recent inspector general's report to Congress, however, shows the huge costs have yielded too few results.

"It's really striking to contemplate how invisible the American footprint has become here," says Ernesto Londono, a Washington Post correspondent covering the anniversary in Baghdad. "You look around at the neighborhoods where Americans invested a lot of money and there's very little that is visible."

Londono was in Baghdad at the peak of sectarian bloodshed in 2007. Today, he says, the picture is better.

"Some people are doing very well," he tells Lyden. "You see a surprising amount of wealth on the street. ... Iraqis are more plugged in digitally than they've ever been. This used to be a hugely repressed ... [and] now Iraqis have one or two cellphones, and everyone is on Facebook."

But sectarian tension is still evident, Londono says, especially at the political level; many Sunnis accuse the Shiite-dominated government of being authoritarian. At the street level, however, he says things have changed dramatically.

"At the end of sectarian war in 2008, there came a point where people realized that they were being set up by hard-line groups ... and they were being foolishly pushed into this really brutal fight," he says. "But the war definitely left scars; the neighborhoods that were mixed before are nowhere near as mixed now."

Hadley says the country now faces encroachment from Iran and the sectarian war in Syria.

The fear, he says, is that if the opposition is successful in toppling Bashar Assad in Syria, that sentiment might bleed over into Iraq and spark a sectarian war to topple Maliki. With the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from the nation, he says, Iraq is not getting needed support.

"The United States is not playing the role it needs to play in terms of helping Iraq get through this difficult transition period," he says.

As for the future of the U.S. role in Iraq, the American presence has shifted from the military to the CIA, which is covertly helping Iraq build up its counterterrorism operations.

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Guffran
(Kelly McEvers/NPR)
March 16, 2013

Letters to My Dead Father

Ten years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, NPR is taking a look back, revisiting people and places first encountered during the war.

In 2006, NPR aired a story about a 9-year-old girl who loved her father so much, she wrote him letters to take to work with him. Even after he died, in a carjacking that appeared to have a sectarian motive, she still wrote to him.

We expected to find the angry, grief-stricken girl who had pounded her fists and thrown herself into the mud when she first heard her father was killed, back in 2006.

Instead we found a poised, tall, gazelle of a young lady. Now 16, Guffran says she spends most of her time studying.

Her father had hoped she would become a doctor. But the teenage Guffran has a different plan.

"I like science, I like physics, but I don't like chemistry," she says. "And medical [school], it's all about chemistry, and I don't like it."

Guffran says she wants to be another kind of doctor, a Ph.D. in English, which she insists on speaking with us. Her dream is to teach English language and literature at a university — and maybe to be a writer.

"I like to write, I love to write. And when I feel bad or feel sadness, I catch my paper and my pen and write what I feel," she says.

Moving To A New City

About a year after her father's death, Guffran and her mother and brother moved to the southern Iraqi city of Kerbala. They now live with an uncle and his family. They have exactly one room for studying, eating, receiving guests and sleeping.

The uncle controls everything they do.

"When we want to rent a house, my uncle doesn't allow us," Guffran says.

Multiply this story times the estimated 1 million families in Iraq who've lost fathers and husbands to decades of war, upheavals and privations.

The Iraqi government did compensate Guffran and her brothers after their father was killed; each got about $1,000. But the support ended there. Guffran's mother used to make money as a seamstress. The relatives won't let her work now.

What's more, there's very little chance they will ever know who killed Guffran's father, says her mother, Um Haidar.

Um Haidar says she knows the killers were Sunni Muslims who wanted to punish her husband for being a Shiite Muslim. She says there were people who witnessed the killing. But they were too afraid to come forward.

"No one could do anything at that time," Um Haidar says. "It was very dangerous for them, because they know the killers would come and take revenge for them upon the whole family."

This is another lingering problem of the Iraq war — so many unresolved cases.

Um Haidar says despite it all, she has to move on and put her hope in her kids.

Dreams Of Her Father

But Guffran can't move on, despite her studies and her dreams to become a professor. She says she feels like her father died yesterday.

She misses him so much, she still writes him letters.

We ask her if she can read one. It's written on stationery bordered by flowers and hearts. The letter begins:

Oh my father / who lives deep in my heart
You are the most precious present that god has given me.
You are the candle that lightened my path.
You have left me / and went away
What did it do? What fault did i do?
You left me very young / they have taken you from me.
I was a little flower / and you were the water for me.
They have taken you away from me.
Daddy
This is the word that burns my heart ...

In English, it might sound sappy. In Arabic, it's poetic.

At least once a week, Guffran thinks of her father and starts crying. Only picking up her copy book and writing can help her feel better.

"I have a friend, she love me so much, and she tell me always to move on and forget my father. He was in heaven. And he's happy now," Guffran says. "Yes, but I can't. When I remember it, I go crying."

Flipping through the book, we see drawings any teenage girl might have: cartoonish figures of girls with frizzy hair and skinny jeans.

But there are somber pictures, too. One is a man and a girl, sitting on a park bench in front of a giant sunset. He has his arm around her. She looks like she's grown up and ready for something.

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Marine Lt. Phillip Baki visits with an Afghan police officer, Abdul Karim
(Sean Carberry/NPR)
March 11, 2013

With Withdrawal Looming, U.S. Troops Shift Their Aim

The NATO campaign is now in a new phase. After years of fighting the Taliban and bolstering anemic local governance, NATO troops are handing those responsibilities over to the Afghans.

The fertile Arghandab Valley in Kandahar Province is considered one of Afghanistan's breadbaskets. For years it was also a valley of death for NATO troops.

Security in the region has improved dramatically since the U.S. troop surge in 2010, though Taliban hotspots remain tucked amid the small mountains overlooking the valley.

On a misty February morning, 1st Lt. Phillip Baki led a platoon of U.S. cavalry troops on a patrol up a steep peak. They were visiting the Afghan Police checkpoint overlooking the Dahla Dam.

"Every time we come out here, we try to get the general atmosphere of what's going on at the checkpoint and talk to the commander to see what he's got planned," Baki says.

This particular checkpoint has a reputation for being short on resources and staffed by Afghan officers who don't always show up. On this day, Abdul Karim, the second in command, is at the post and awake when the troops show up.

Karim says things are fine and they have everything they need, which is hard to believe given the ramshackle appearance of the small outpost. It doesn't exactly project a commanding security presence in an area where the Taliban continue to operate.

Baki says insurgents plant so many improvised explosive devices in the area that Afghan and NATO troops can't patrol safely. But, he says the western side of the Arghandab River is safe.

Bakis explains that the district police chief lives on the western side of the river, and so it is actively patrolled.

It's a typical phenomenon in Afghanistan — security can vary wildly from one side of a hill, or a river, to the other. Baki says that the Taliban on dirt bikes are able to move quickly into these villages on the eastern side of the river.

"So, it's an easy choice for these villagers," he says.

Baki says that's the crux of the issue: the insurgents rush in where the Afghan government is weak. Troops like his are now doing a lot less shooting and a lot more mentoring to boost the capacity of the Afghan government.

"It really is about reestablishing the [Afghan government and security forces] presence on that side of the river in order to give them that choice again – the choice to trust that the government is looking out for their best interests," he says.

Karim, the Afghan deputy commander, agrees, but says 30 years of fighting hasn't brought peace and stability.

"The best way to bring security is if we help and serve the people," Karim says. "We should have more training on how to interact with the public so we can get more support from them."

Tough Love

The persistent lack of governance in many areas has created a gap Taliban militants happily exploit. As the international community is drawing down both troops and financial aid, more Afghan officials are realizing they have to fill the gap.

That realization was front and center at a large gathering at the district center in Shah Wali Kot. U.S. Special Forces were on hand as officials from five different districts in Kandahar gathered to discuss security and governance.

A handful of U.S. troops sat along the back wall of the room and listened to one Afghan after another talk about the need to deliver services to win over the people. The question on the minds of the troops is whether the Afghans can translate the talk into action.

One of those troops was Capt. Mike Cauldwell, the team leader for the civil affairs unit stationed at the small base next to the district center. His job is not to patrol or train Afghan troops, but to help build the capacity of the district government. This role is much different than his first tour in Afghanistan about five years ago.

"It was pre-surge, and we were ... more focused on building stuff," Cauldwell says. "Whereas now we're trying to let their government do a lot of those development projects."

That's not an easy task, however, because there are few competent government officials in these remote parts of the country. Many district officials still haven't figured out how to get resources from Kabul.

"It can be difficult, especially since we have been here for 11 years and we have been ... leading the way on a lot of things," Cauldwell says. He said the Afghans have been used to that and now things are changing.

"We've provided for so long, now they've got to go get it," says Lt. Col. Paul Weyrauch, commander of the 2-3 Field Artillery Battalion. It was deployed in this district a couple of months ago to focus on the transition to Afghan-led security and governance.

Weyrauch says it's difficult to tell the Afghans that after all these years of relying on U.S. troops for money and projects, they now have to do it themselves.

"It's tough on them and it's tough on us," he says, "because it's hard to know you've got a resource you can't provide because of the rules, not because you physically don't have it. In the long run it's definitely going to serve them well, but it certainly isn't easy."

It's essentially a case of tough love with Afghan troops and government officials, something that not everyone has bought into quite yet.

Sluggish Results

Obidullah Populzai, the district governor of Shah Wali Kot, is one official who has adopted the new approach. He says he now reaches out to Kabul for support, rather than U.S. troops.

"Unfortunately, ministers and officials from Kabul have been down here multiple times and they promised they would bring several projects, but so far we have not seen results," Populzai says.

Populzai is currently paying a group of schoolteachers out of his own pocket because the Ministry of Education in Kabul isn't providing the money he needs. He's frustrated because he wants to do more for the people and show them that the government can deliver.

Weyrauch says long-term security will depend on the Afghan government seizing this opportunity. He's confident that the Afghan forces can do their part, so his main concern is making sure the government of Shah Wali Kot does its part.

It's just one small piece of the puzzle, however, and if the other districts in Kandahar don't get it right, then he says it's all for nothing.


February 28, 2013

US Extends Aid to Syrian Rebels

The US is to step up its support for the Syrian opposition as it fights to topple President Bashar al-Assad, Secretary of State John Kerry says.

Mr Kerry said the US would provide direct support to rebel forces in the form of medical and food supplies.

He also promised an additional $60m (£40m) in aid to the opposition to help it deliver basic governance and other services in rebel-controlled areas.

Mr Kerry was speaking at a gathering of the Friends of Syria group in Rome.

'Out of time'

The promise of direct, non-lethal aid to the rebels represents a shift in US policy on Syria, correspondents say.

However it falls short of providing the weapons and munitions that the rebels say they need to defeat government forces.

Mr Kerry said the decision was designed to increase the pressure on President Assad to step down and allow a democratic transition.

"The US decision to take further steps now is the result of the brutality of superior armed force propped up by foreign fighters from Iran and Hezbollah.

"President Assad is out of time and must be out of power," said Mr Kerry, adding that the Syrian leader could not "shoot his way out" of the situation.

The $60m in aid to the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) represents a doubling of US support.

It was intended to help the opposition deliver governance and basic services in rebel-controlled areas, said Mr Kerry.

"As the regime continues to lose ground it will help the opposition extend stability and build representative government and the rule of law," he added.

The leader of the SNC, Moaz al-Khatib, said he was still frustrated by the lack of military help for rebel fighters.

He initially refused to attend the Rome talks in protest at a lack of international support for the Syrian rebels, but was persuaded after the US and UK indicated there would be specific promises of aid.

Mosque 'captured'

Speaking at the meeting Mr Khatib called on President Assad to make "one wise decision in your life" and stand down "for the future of your country".

Earlier this month he also suggested for the first time that talks with the Assad government might be possible, though that suggestion remains controversial among opposition groups.

The SNC says it plans to set up a government to administer rebel-held areas of Syria, primarily in the north of the country close to the Turkish border.

But a meeting to select the prime minister, scheduled for the weekend, was unexpectedly postponed on Thursday, and no new date has been set.

Meanwhile fighting in Syria continues and the humanitarian situation is worsening.

In the latest fighting, rebel forces have captured the historic Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, according to an activist group.

The mosque was damaged and its museum caught fire as rebels forced government troops to withdraw, UK-based activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Fighting also raged elsewhere in Aleppo's old city, including near the Palace of Justice, it added.

'New phase'

Aleppo - Syria's second city - has been a key battleground in the conflict.

Mr Kerry highlighted the fate of the city in his address, accusing President Assad of engaging in "ruthless attacks" with Scud missiles against rebel-held areas.

According to UN estimates, more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt against President Assad began nearly two years ago.

Opposition fighters have been constantly outgunned as President Assad's forces deploy tanks, aircraft and missiles against them.

The UN's refugees agency says the number of Syrians who have fled the conflict into neighbouring countries is now approaching one million, while two million have been internally displaced.

The World Health Organisation has warned of disease outbreaks and worsening medical services.

Earlier, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Friends of Syria were determined to "ramp up" assistance to the opposition.

"We are entering a new phase in the response of Western and Arab nations to the crisis in Syria," he said.

The Friends of Syria organisation has broad international support, but does not include Syrian allies Russia and China.

On Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks on Syria with his French counterpart Francois Hollande.

He conceded that there were differences in the positions of Russia and France, but said both had agreed that Syria should not be allowed to break apart as a result of the conflict.


Noor Kelze
(Courtesy of Noor Kelze)
February 15, 2013

Conflict Transforms Syrian English Teacher Into War Photographer

Syria's war has thrown ordinary citizens into situations they never could have imagined and changed them in ways they never would have dreamed. It's turned carpenters, engineers and doctors into armed rebels. And in Aleppo, it has turned a young woman teacher into a war photographer.

We first met Noor Kelze back in October, on our first trip to Aleppo. We asked her to work with us as an interpreter. She agreed but said she also would be shooting pictures.

Noor, 25, had been teaching English and only recently became a war photographer.

She covers her hair with a hijab, or a stocking cap, or sometimes a helmet. She has sharp eyes and a sly smile. But probably the most striking thing about Noor is how calm she is in the face of chaos.

As we got out of the car in a bombed-out neighborhood during that first trip, she led us around like we were on a tour. We started to hear shelling and gunfire, but Noor was unfazed.

"We're not even close to the front line yet," she said.

She walked us to what she called the back of the front line. It was the backside of a building. The only thing separating us from the front line was the building.

We started asking questions about a guy who was killed the day before. Turns out Noor knew him. He had been part of a team of rebel fighters, known as the Free Syrian Army, which helped pull the body of an old man out of some rubble. A government sniper had shot the man in the chest and killed him.

Noor says the rebel fighter provided cover by shooting at the government sniper. "At the same moment, two rebels ran into the street, dragged the body, and that's it."

Noor photographed the whole thing — the body of the old man being dragged out and the rebel who was shooting to provide cover. Now the rebel shooter is dead.

As we walked through the rubble of the ruined streets, she remembered him — her voice showing no emotion.

"He went to see his family last Saturday ... and then he came back here the next day. And he died," she said.

An Accidental War Photographer

It's this kind of experience that gives Noor credibility with the rebels in Aleppo. It means they give her access, and good access means good pictures.

Men mourn the death of two of their relatives killed by what activists said were missiles fired by a Syrian air force fighter jet from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, at the souk of Azaz, north of Aleppo, on Jan. 13, 2013. When the Syrian uprising started nearly two years ago, Noor was a recent college graduate teaching English in a private school.

Protests kicked off around the country, but not the northern city of Aleppo, Noor's hometown.

That's because the business-minded city was more concerned with survival than politics. Noor says she'd go to protests that lasted only five minutes.

Then some in the protest movement took up arms, and last summer those rebel fighters brought the fight to Aleppo. At first, Noor did what she calls "woman things" — cooking for the rebels.

Then she offered to record one rebel unit's battles and upload the footage to the Internet. She says it was her way to help the cause.

"The camera is as equal as a weapon," she says. "And you need to document every single thing that's happening. Because back in the '80s, when we were in similar situation, nobody had any idea about what was going on in Homs and Hama," she says, referring to a brutal crackdown by then-President Hafez Assad, father of Syrian's current president Bashar Assad. Tens of thousands of people were killed then.

Noor believed her new role was to make sure similar atrocities don't go unreported.

Last fall, a well-known war photographer with the Reuters agency, Goran Tomasovic, spotted Noor shooting pictures with her cell phone. He trained her for a week on how to use a professional camera, then gave her a few of his cameras to keep. She's been sending pictures to the agency ever since.

It's not an easy job. One day Noor was shooting pictures of the aftermath of a bombing by a government plane. The jet circled back around and came in low. Rebels fired at it with two doshkas, a Russian name for large-caliber machine guns.

"I felt so safe because usually ... when the doskha starts firing at the jet, the jet would go up high and not come back again," she says.

But that's not what happened this time. As rebels fired the doshkas, Noor couldn't hear that the jet was coming even closer. She pulled her face away from the camera to see that everyone else had hit the dirt.

Children attend school in Aleppo on Nov. 25, 2012. "And they said, 'It's getting lower! It's getting lower!' It was the jet firing at the doskhas. Firing bullets," she says.

Noor pulled her cameras in tight, turned her back on the plane and ran to hide behind some sandbags. As she did, she took shrapnel across her leg and back.

"I thought I was waiting for death," she says. "Because all I was thinking about is that the jet is going to throw its big bomb now, and we're going to die in pieces."

That didn't happen. For whatever reason, the jet flew away. In the end, Noor's injuries were relatively minor.

Working Despite The Risks

In conservative parts of Aleppo, it's very strange for a young, unmarried woman to be running around with a bunch of guys, let alone guys with guns.

A member of the Free Syrian Army opens fire with a machine gun during clashes with Syrian army forces in Aleppo on Sept. 27, 2012. But Noor says she doesn't care if people gossip. She says her family supports her, and that's all that matters.

On the day Noor took us to the front line, rebel fighters stormed her family's neighborhood, where her mother and three siblings still lived. Government troops responded.

As we drove around, Noor frantically tried to call her mom to see if she was alright. She asked us if we could give the family a ride out of the city.

It was sundown by the time we finally found them.

They had made their escape from the neighborhood and were standing on the street with what looked like everything they owned.

Noor's mother smiled and chatted as if nothing was wrong. An older aunt didn't do so well. Inside the car she rocked back and forth, grabbing my knee and repeating prayers of thanks.A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his rifle as he stands on a damaged street in Aleppo on Nov. 29, 2012.

Some news organizations have stopped taking work from freelancers in Syria. They say doing so only encourages young, inexperienced and uninsured reporters to risk their lives.

But even if she weren't sending pictures to Reuters, Noor says she would do this work anyway.

When we last saw her, Noor said she was planning on setting up a kind of media center that would help her and other Syrians connect with foreign journalists.

But then, something happened.

Just last week, rebels launched an offensive in another front-line neighborhood. A few days later, Noor went to shoot pictures there.

A government tank fired and hit a wall. The wall collapsed on Noor. She came to amid a cloud of dust. The bones around her ankle were broken. She is now being treated in a hospital in Turkey.

Noor told us the attack has only strengthened her resolve. Once the leg heals, she says, she hopes to be back at the front lines.


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