U.S.-backed rebels still battling ISIS outside truce zone

NORTHERN SYRIA -- Next week will mark five years since the uprising that led to Syria's civil war, which has left at least a quarter of a million people dead and forced 11 million from their homes.

The village of Masorat Al-Rashid was liberated from ISIS three days ago. CBS News saw the body of an ISIS fighter lying in the rubble of a house that was hit by an airstrike.

northern-syria22.jpg
Women and children in a northern Syrian village walk past what's left of their homes after five years of civil war and occupation by ISIS fighters.
CBS News

Joza Khalaf and her cousin Khatar said the extremists held guns to their heads, forcing their way into their homes to hide. They said the ISIS fighters also dressed up as women to try to avoid capture.

The nearby town of Al Shaddadi was liberated last week. The ISIS slogans are still there, but the town is now under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an Arab-Kurdish alliance that's supported by the U.S.

Commander Media Kobane told CBS News that U.S. coalition airstrikes helped her fighters win the battle here.

The main road connecting Raqqa -- the so-called ISIS capital in Syria -- with Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, also controlled by ISIS, has been recaptured by the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Colonel Tala Selo told CBS News his fighters have been given over 100 tons of ammunition by the U.S.-led coalition in the last six months, all of it dropped by parachute.

But America's most effective partner in Syria has some murky alliances.

It's accused of coordinating with Russia, which backs the Syrian regime, and has also allegedly fought against other U.S.-backed groups.

Colonel Selo denied both those claims, but admitted his group enjoys a longstanding truce with the Syrian regime. Its flag flies over two compounds inside his territory.

This U.S.-backed group is taking on ISIS and winning -- sometimes paying a terrible price, but their allegiances are complicated.

Colonel Selo said he met with Brett McGurk, President Obama's envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, when he visited the Syrian war zone in January.

The colonel said his group asked for anti-tank missiles and machine guns -- but said so far, all they've received is promises.