A Peshmerga soldier aims his weapon out of a window while guarding an area controlled by the Peshmerga during heavy fighting between Peshmerga and IS forces in Jalawla, Iraq, July, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

On September 1, 2014 photojournalist Erin Trieb was on assignment documenting the liberation of the Kurdish-Iraqi village Yangega by the Kurdish border police for The Washington Post. Throughout her time in Iraqi-Kurdistan, Trieb was embedded with several different Peshmerga units and one Kurdish border police unit for a total of 8 days during the months of July and August based near Khanaqin Northeast Iraq, Kirkuk, and Fishkhabour in Western Iraq near the border of Syria. In early September Trieb was embedded near Kirkuk in Yangega with General Fakhraden Hawramy under Major General Wasta Rasul, the supervisor of Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk.

It is with this group where she was able to document a rarely-seen first-hand encounter of Kurdish troops taking back an IS-controlled village.

On this particular mission in September the goal was to penetrate, take control of, and liberate the village of Yangega, which at that time was under ISIS control. When asked about how much sleep he and his men received each night, Kurdish border police General Fakhraden Hawramy replied, “We don’t sleep. We haven’t slept in days. You can see it in their eyes, how tired they are. We can’t afford to sleep because the fighting doesn’t stop at night; it’s 24 hours a day.”

The Kurdish Border Police used preliminary tactics before advancing into the village. They took a fighting position near an abandoned football stadium and fired mortars and heavy artillery from tanks. After they believed ISIS had retreated from their fighting position, they advanced to occupy the building or “strongpoint” from where Islamic State was firing. Around the buildings the Kurdish border police uncovered many booby traps and cases of dynamite. Many of the buildings had been occupied by ISIS fighters not more than an hour before. There were scraps of food, garments, shell casings and other items that the militants had left behind when fleeing. Finally, the Kurdish border police reached the center of Yangega. At one point as they advanced toward a large house ISIS militants opened fire, forcing Trieb to duck quickly behind a wall from potential flying bullets, all the while continuing to photograph as General Fakhraden Hawramy stayed on his phone, giving and receiving orders. When the troops arrived at the center of Yangega the town was totally abandoned with the exception of dozens of stray cats and dogs. Border police immediately tore down several black ISIS flags that were mounted and began stomping on them as a symbolic gesture of victory. The border police, elated and simultaneously delirious, patrolled the village center until dark and continued celebrating. That night they were able to sleep for the first time in several days.

All photos by Erin Trieb for The Washington Post


The meager living quarters of Peshmerga soldiers, based at a bare outpost, near Jalawla, Iraq, July, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

Peshmerga Generals attend a meeting led by General Hussein Mansour (not pictured) at a Peshmerga military base in Khanaqin, Kurdistan, July, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

A Peshmerga soldier sleeps in the shade at a Peshmerga military base near Jalawla Iraq, July, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

Peshmerga soldiers share watermelons during a short break near a Peshmerga military base in Khanaqin, Kurdistan, July, 2014.

A large Improvised Explosive Device detonates killing several Peshmerga soldiers (the exact number is not known because their bodies could not be retrieved) during a clash between Peshmerga and IS forces in Jalawla, Iraq, July, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

Several Peshmerga soldiers are transported to safety after being injured during heavy fighting between Peshmerga and IS forces in Jalawla, Iraq, July, 2014. (Erin Trieb The Washington Post)

A Peshmerga soldier is injured by shrapnel after an RPG exploded near his face during a clash between Peshmerga and IS forces in Jalawla, Iraq, July, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

Kurdish border police soldiers look out from a building on the frontline during an operation to attack IS and clear and secure the IS-controlled village of Yangega, south of Kirkuk, Kurdistan, Iraq on Sept. 1, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

A Kurdish border police soldier prepares his weapon before going to the front line in an operation to attack IS and clear and secure the IS-controlled village of Yangega, south of Kirkuk, Kurdistan / Iraq on Sept. 1, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

A Kurdish border police soldier rides in a Humvee to the front line in an operation to attack IS and clear and secure the IS-controlled village of Yangega, south of Kirkuk, Kurdistan / Iraq on Sept. 1, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

Kurdish border police soldiers duck for cover while being fired upon at the frontline during an operation to attack IS and clear and secure the IS-controlled village of Yangega, south of Kirkuk, Kurdistan, Iraq on Sept. 1, 2014. (Erin Trieb)

Kurdish border police soldiers advance to the frontline during an operation to attack IS and clear and secure the IS-controlled village of Yangega, south of Kirkuk, Kurdistan, Iraq on Sept. 1, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

Charred IS trucks that the Kurdish Border Police claim they destroyed with artillery fire in Yangega Village, south of Kirkuk, Kurdistan, Iraq on Sept. 1, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

Kurdish border police take down the IS black flag after taking control of Yangega Village during a three day offensive operation, south of Kirkuk, Kurdistan, Iraq on Sept. 1, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

General Fakhraden Hawramy of the Kurdish border police pieces back together a photo of Saddam’s Iraqi Republican Guard that he found at an abandoned house occupied by IS militants in the village of Yangega, south of Kirkuk, Kurdistan / Iraq on Sept. 1, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

Kurdish border police soldiers take photos with their phones next to the IS black flag they captured after they took control of Yangega Village, south of Kirkuk, Kurdistan / Iraq on Sept. 1, 2014. (Erin Trieb for The Washington Post)

Erin Trieb is a photojournalist and contributed text to this blog post