I heard the 12.7mm gunshots reverberate across the abandoned buildings throughout the morning and into the afternoon. Shot after shot rang out from the lot outside the abandoned warehouse next to the apartment building I stayed in with the YPG. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me. It did not appear to be one of the YPJ or YPG sniper units doing the shooting, because I was staying with them.

We were right next to what had once been the border between Syria and Iraq. Now, that border was irrelevant. It was part of Rojava now, since the YPG had captured Rabbia from Daash months prior. Making my way from what had been luxury apartment buildings, through some rubble, and to the abandoned industrial park, I was overcome by a creepy vibe, as if I had entered some kind of post-apocalyptic world.

When I got to the shooters, I found about seven of them firing locally manufactured 12.7mm sniper rifles. They were made using DShK barrels and an action and trigger mechanism built in one of Rojava’s weapons factories. I walked up to the group and began shaking their hands. One of them was about six foot five and built like a brick shit house.

When I shook his hand and said hello, he just grunted something and moved along, clearly trying to disguise what he clearly was—a European foreign fighter who had volunteered to fight with the Kurds. He was joined by another European-looking troop who I didn’t get to meet. I was later told that they had been overheard speaking in what sounded like a Scandinavian language.