MAHMOODIN, Syria -- We crossed the River Tigris on a rusty barge on our journey from Iraq into Syria. It's a river that helped nurture civilization, but the war that's now raging on its banks has become increasingly barbaric.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) controls territory on both sides of the border -- land the group refers to as the "Islamic State." But in northeastern Syria, they're meeting resistance from a rag-tag army of Kurdish fighters, and we wanted to meet them.
With our Kurdish guide, we headed for the village of Telkocher, on the front line in the fight against the Islamic extremists. But just an hour into our drive, we strayed too close to ISIS snipers and our convoy came under fire.
We scrambled for cover in another village, Mahmoodin, which has been under attack for a month. Across the dusty plain that surrounds the village, the nearest ISIS position was visible just a mile away.
Mahmoodin's mud brick homes and neat flower gardens were abandoned; we ran down its narrow alleyways and found all of them empty, until we stumbled into a courtyard where a Kurdish commander, Omran Hussein, has set up camp.
A strapping former tailor who never stops smiling and pairs his military fatigues with a flower-patterned headscarf, Commander Hussein has just 40 soldiers to hold off ISIS.
"Not enough," he told us, "but they're all I have."
Ten of his fighters are women -- some of them teenagers -- and according to Commander Hussein, they're some of his best soldiers.
"There's no difference between the men and the women," he said. "Some of them are even better fighters than I am."
One of them is 19-year-old Akina Akin, a five-foot tall dynamo who's already battle hardened after two years of fighting.
We asked her if she was frightened of being captured by ISIS -- which has become notorious for kidnapping and raping women and girls in its territory.
"I'm not afraid," she said with a defiant toss of her head. "I'll blow myself up before I let them catch me."
In ISIS territory women must cover their faces, and everyone is subject to a strict version of Islamic law. The Kurdish fighters are also Muslims, but they follow a very different version of Islam.
Asked if ISIS -- as it claims -- practices a "pure" form of Sunni Islam, Commander Hussein guffawed.
"I might be a bit Westernized, but I'm still a Muslim," he told us. "ISIS is killing people, and real Muslims don't kill innocent civilians."
It's been a week since the U.S. military and a handful of allied nations began conducting airstrikes against ISIS inside Syria. The latest were reported overnight by Syrian activists, who said several strikes hit ISIS targets in the northeast.
But Commander Hussein told us that, so far, the air campaign has had little impact on the ground.
He's still hopeful, though, that the U.S. will come to the rescue -- with more airstrikes, and a desperately-needed infusion of weapons to battle the well-armed extremists.
"Tell America we need weapons," he said. "If we can't defeat ISIS, their next target will be Europe and the U.S."