Mother Jones

Sneaking Into Syria

“If it was up to us, we wouldn’t let the Americans leave,” says the border guard.

THERE ARE FOUR main types of Americans fighting on the ground in Syria: special forces soldiers, CIA agents, Islamic extremists, and anarchists. As I putter in a motorboat across the Tigris River one afternoon in May 2018, I have no idea which of these, if any, I will encounter in the weeks ahead. The Pentagon already told me I couldn’t tag along with its troops; the CIA doesn’t publicly admit to having anything to do with Syria; the extremists would be happy to see me dead; and the anarchists tend to be cautious about tipping off the feds that they are fighting in a foreign country.

I disembark with a handful of locals and walk up a gravelly slope to a small shack. Iraq, which I just came from, is on the opposite side of the river. Turkey is not far upstream. A man with a wrinkled, sun-worn face and an AK-47 asks for our passports.

I don’t have a visa. One month after I

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