From the moment I was met at my hotel on Sulaymaniyah, I was fed into an underground ratline, a clandestine logistics network for moving people, guns, and even ideas.
The driver was a good man with good references. He was to drive me north, from Suly up into the mountains of northern Kurdistan. It was about a five hour ride by truck, my bags tossed in the back. As we drove, the driver would make calls and receive updates about checkpoints up ahead. However, my driver didn’t usually make this trip and got a little turned around in the mountains. Down in one of the gullies we drove there was a large flatbed truck, Kurdish resistance fighters filling the back with supplies destined for the font lines in Kurdish Syria which they call Rojava.
Eventually, our driver asked a couple kids playing with sticks for directions. Although I don’t speak Kurdish I think the conversation went a little like this:
“Where is the secret base?”
“Oh, you went right passed it. Turn back and make your first right.”
Backtracking, the driver went down a muddy scope and crossed a creek. Of course the pickup truck stalled out before we got to the other side. A little gerryrigging and we were back on the road where we soon linked up with another contact. Transferring to the other vehicle, I said goodbye to my driver.
The new driver took me about five minutes away before stopping his vehicle. We got out to walk the rest of the way. What followed was like something straight out of the Robin Sage exercise I did as a part of my Special Forces training in unconventional warfare. By now it was dark and I stumbled a few times down the muddy hill. Crossing a creek, I was suddenly inside a hidden encampment.
The hut appeared almost out of nowhere as it was camouflaged with the surrounding terrain. A burlap flap was swept out of the way of the entrance and I stepped inside with my backpack slung over one shoulder. Inside were about two dozen Kurdish resistance fighters sitting around a table. It was dark and only a long naked bulb and a space heater illuminated the interior.
The Kurds all stood and welcomed me inside, shaking my hand one by one. They were mostly women. I was offered food and chai tea.
Soon I would meet what we refer to as the “G-Chief” in Special Forces training. This is the head honcho who runs the entire guerrilla camp. In this case it was a woman who had been running this particular way station for resistance fighters for twenty some odd years. She kept track of everyone who passes through her camp in a little notebook, including myself.
The hut was constructed with old rice bags that had been filled with dirt. The roof consisted of tree limbs holding up a roof made of cardboard with plastic sheeting over it. The whole hut was then wrapped in brown burlap and covered with dead foliage to help keep it concealed from the Turks who occasionally fly overhead and bomb the resistance fighters.
After food and chai, I was down to my quarters for the night. It was a similar hut with bedding inside which I shared with a fighter who was recently off the front lines. He was being recalled to work in the mountains as a trainer for other fighters. Together we spent a few minutes watching a Asian martial arts film that had been dubbed into Kurdish on his old laptop computer. When the computer died, we decided it was time for maybe one more cigarette and then bedtime.
Laying down, I pulled some of the heavy blankets I was provided over me and closed my eyes.
I was now bunking with people which the United States government considers a terrorist organization.