Documentary. September 2016: Stacey Dooley embeds herself on the frontline with the extraordinary all-female Yazidi battalion, who are fuelled to take revenge against Isis.
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This programme contains some strong language
and scenes which some viewers may find disturbing.
THEY SHOUT IN UNISON
A battalion of Yazidi women are getting ready to fight Isis,
and I'm going with them.
The Yazidi girls were kept in halls, they were tortured,
they were raped, they were abused.
You can now see these same girls sat in the back of a truck
with their guns, driving head-on, straight towards Isis.
These women are survivors of the worst war crime of recent history.
Their homes have been destroyed.
More than 3,000 of their mothers, sisters,
aunts and nieces are still captive behind the Isis lines.
It's time for revenge.
Somebody has left their rifle.
'Isis fighters need to pass this front line
'to escape from Mosul to Syria.'
ARTILLERY FIRES Fucking hell!
Oh, my God!
'They may try to take captured Yazidi women with them
'as human shields.'
So now we're in a situation where both sides seem to be shooting.
'I've come to northern Iraq to tell the story of these amazing women
'who have overcome the unthinkable to fight Isis on the front line.'
For the next two weeks I'm going to live with a unit of Yazidi women
as they prepare to be called to the front line to fight Isis.
The Yazidi are peaceful people who have never gone to war before,
but now they are having to take arms.
One wrong turning, and we'll be in Mosul,
that's Isis-controlled territory.
So because of the nature of what we're going to be filming
over the next couple of weeks,
we've got a tracker, so every time we're in the car,
and we're on the road, London can see where we're going.
This is a really large city in Kurdistan,
controlled entirely by Isis.
There are an estimated 800,000 Yazidis in the world.
But almost all of them live in this part of Iraq.
Their religion is not Christian or Muslim, they worship their own gods.
Isis have performed more vicious brutality towards them
than any other religious minority.
They're thinking, "Who is this strange white girl?
"Who is this crazy British girl?"
Captain. My boss.
Hello. How are you? Nice to meet you.
'I'm going to stay here with the girls for one night.'
The girls are finishing their training today.
Tomorrow we're moving to the base near the front line.
It's the strongest four girls that do the toughest exercises.
These girls were captured by Isis.
17-year-old Nadia is one of them.
How long were you kept by Isis?
She's not really sure.
It's very difficult.
You're not scared that you... you may be killed?
"No, I will defend my country."
'It's so shocking,
'a 17-year-old girl saying she's ready to die to fight these people.
'The kinds of things all these girls must have been through
'to make them this determined.
'It's not long before I find out from their commander
'the sort of atrocities the Yazidis have experienced.'
..within that woman, and actually in the whole room...
it was just so...moving.
And the horror stories that these girls come out with.
It's beyond belief.
'That story the mother told Khatoon turned her into a soldier
'and eventually the founder of this battalion of Yazidi women
'being trained by the Peshmerga.
'We're in the middle of a war zone,
'so it's not easy to verify these horrific ordeals.
'But I've already heard so much about the raping,
'starving and killing of children in front of their mothers.'
Somebody has left their rifle.
Do you know, it almost feels a bit like a summer camp?
All the giggling.
Listening to music.
Plaiting each other's hair.
You can almost forget that these...
..are women who are training to go on the front line and kill Isis.
That... That is the reality.
A mosquito... WOMEN SPEAK OWN LANGUAGE
Yeah, I know. I can't take...
'So, geared up,
'ready to spend my first night here at their training camp.
'Honestly, I'm... feeling quite overwhelmed.
'I perhaps underestimated...'
..the ruthlessness and the pure evil...
..that seems to exist here.
And I think what this does, is it gives you an insight into
what life has been like for these Yazidi women.
I really like the girls.
I just can't wait to spend more time with them.
Wish me luck in my bunk bed!
I haven't slept in one in a long time.
I'm hoping not to roll off the top in the middle of the night!
For the girls every day starts at half five.
We must pack.
So right now, this is us.
Basically, we need to make our way to the second training camp,
and this is where the girls will wait
until they're called to join the front line.
Snuny, the training camp we'll be based at.
Behind the mountain, that's the front line.
So that's where a lot of these girls are from, the Sinjar area,
they call it Shingal. So we must hug the Syrian border, keep west,
we know that Isis are both here...
and in Tal Afar.
So we need to do a bit of a detour.
You know, I've never been so familiar
with another country's geography in all me life!
So Nadia is obviously from Sinjar.
So international - Sinjar, Kurdish - Shingal.
And this is what this means, these tattoos on her arm.
SHE SINGS ALONG TO SONG ON STEREO
This song, what does it say?
I'm so sorry to interrupt. All of this... This was bombed?
Oh, the same as Sinjar? Shingal? The same?
'When Isis invaded northern Iraq in 2014, Mosul fell first,
'and then they came here, where all these girls are from.
'They killed up to 7,000 Yazidis.
'The UN called it a genocide.'
How does it make you feel, Nadia,
when you see all of these buildings completely destroyed?
Now you have no happiness? You feel no joy?
Do you think you'll always feel like this?
Or maybe in time you will be able to recover?
Ah! This is training?
So we're here? This is our training camp.
Well, their training camp.
Actually, it was a high school, and Isis took over it for four months.
But then the Peshmerga army took it back.
It turns out our translator, Adiba, is from a neighbouring village.
This is her first time coming back since she fled her home in 2014.
Some of the girls were telling me that before Isis arrived
this place was heaving.
-It was so busy and...
-Yeah, it was, yeah.
-There was electricity?
So now only one is here.
In that time there were more than 100
just sitting and working over there.
When our friends were getting married
we were coming this area to dance here.
It's still the same smell of Shingal.
It will never change.
Like, the sky here is different.
The sun here is different.
Everything is different in Shingal.
We didn't have anything, but we were so happy.
Everyone were happy.
We were making such a beautiful life.
I wish, like, we gave them all Shingal,
but just they gave us our people.
Everything can come back, but people will never come back.
Isis believes that the Yazidis are devil worshippers,
and think of them as spoils of war.
But the truth is that the Yazidis have a historic religion.
They worship an ancient god, and pray facing the sun.
This is not the first time
they've suffered a misunderstanding of their religion.
They say this is the 74th genocide in their history.
I think what I didn't take into consideration
was how tiring it would be, being anxious all of the time.
Like, even when I'm on form, and I'm having a laugh with the girls,
who are amazing, there's sort of this...
niggling thought at the back of your mind.
You know, "What was that noise?"
Or, "Are they going to come for us?" you know.
And I think they're rational thoughts because of where I am.
But, you know, I'm sure I can do it for two weeks.
These girls, this is their reality.
During the night we all lay out mattresses right next to each other.
I feel like the girls and I are starting to get closer,
and they're opening up to me.
Inas is another one of the girls who was captured by Isis.
How was your sleep last night? How did you rest?
Ines, what was their...reasoning?
Did they ever try and justify their behaviour?
If you are successful, and you manage to kill one of your enemies,
how do you think that will make you feel?
Khatoon started this battalion by recruiting female survivors
in the refugee camps.
The army offered these girls an opportunity to be together
and support each other away from the camps.
And the chance to fight back.
So these girls are getting ready to go home.
Camp's finished for the time being.
I say home - actually, many of them have got no houses to go to,
they've been blown up,
their family members have been killed,
some of their towns are still under the control of Isis.
Inas is lucky, in terms of her folks are still alive.
So I'm going to tag along with her when she goes to visit them.
How are you?
OK? Feel good?
Are you excited about seeing Mum and Dad?
How many of you girls live in a camp now?
Wow. That's remarkable.
-So you have everything? We are ready to go?
Just this? OK, you take your hat.
I'll help you with your bag.
So this is Hanke Camp,
and a lot of the families that have fled conflict are now living here.
It's estimated that just under half a million Yazidis are now displaced.
Hello. How are you?
Nice to meet you. Hello, sir, how do you do?
You OK? Hello.
-Ah, how are you?
-I'm good, thanks.
Your English is brilliant.
My Kurdish, not so good!
'Inas' ten family members live in this small space.'
Hi. How are you?
Aww! A siesta!
-I can sit here?
'This family will never forget the day when they had to flee
'their home in Sinjar.'
So when Isis attacked... your area, were you all together?
Collectively as a family?
And please may you tell me
what your life was like before you came here?
So these pictures were taken just a few years ago?
How does it make you feel knowing that your daughter is potentially
going onto the front line to try and kill the enemy?
I'm so impressed that a 17-year-old girl had the nerve
to stand up to an Isis fighter with a sword to save her dad.
What everyone here is telling me is that Isis
killed all the men they captured and raped any women they wanted.
I believe Inas now when she says she's not scared
of going to the front line to avenge her sister's death.
It's not just revenge that Inas is after,
she also wants to fight to free the 3,000 women who are still captive.
Isis took these women to use them as sex slaves.
We've heard numerous anonymous accounts
in terms of what these girls have had to endure,
but by being on the ground it has become apparent that
there's almost this obsession with honour.
And, unbelievably, the girls are the ones who often feel the shame.
So they're hesitant to come forward and speak.
But Inas has a relative who does want to have a chat.
Can you tell me about the day that Isis arrived in your village?
And the raping and the torture and the selling,
this was something that was happening on a daily basis,
for you and the rest of the girls?
This young woman has survived being raped and beaten
by numerous men for over a year.
To accept that this is still happening to so many women right now
breaks your heart.
Few Yazidi women seem willing to speak so candidly
about the extreme horrors they've encountered.
Just to keep yourself and your family together in a refugee camp
like this place is an uphill struggle every day.
I can understand when the girls tell me they feel happier when they're
back with their friends at their base near the front line in Snuny.
So we are just about to go to bed.
And I'm still inside the high school, because actually,
we're not allowed to take our phones up on the roof because it's...
we're so close to the mountain,
and the enemy for them are just beyond that,
so they could see the light from the screen,
which was something I hadn't even thought about. Erm...
Tonight I'm feeling quite apprehensive,
because I know that either tomorrow or the following day
I'm going to have to go to Sinjar.
Sinjar, we are incredibly close to the front line.
WOMEN TALK IN OWN LANGUAGE
We must go to bed.
-Yes, she say, "Go to sleep."
"Because tomorrow you will wake up early."
-Wish me luck.
Haven't got a sports bra on!
Due to the trauma these girls experienced before joining the army,
some of them were fainting when they first started training.
When I see them now, I can't quite believe their transformation.
You wish you could have defended yourself?
Is there an element of shame on the Isis soldier
if he's killed by a woman, given how they view women?
Everything Isis do, everything they stand for,
it's so they can justify their place in heaven.
That's the ultimate goal in their mind.
So the fact that they believe that would not happen
were they killed by a female, it's huge.
WOMEN SPEAK IN OWN LANGUAGE
STACEY SINGS SONG FROM MINIBUS
'Since I've been here, the girls and I have been trying to keep
'a sense of normality by having fun like normal young women.
'One is showing me some pictures.
'Life before Isis feels unrecognisable.'
You look nice there.
I like your...hair.
Oh, my goodness.
Look at you!
-God, you look like your brother.
Were any of your relatives taken?
From the mountain?
Mosul and Tal Afar.
Did they tell your dad what they'd been through?
'The girls are all too familiar with how these accounts can end.'
WOMAN SPEAKS OWN LANGUAGE
It's OK. You just say whatever you feel comfy saying.
'For some of them this is enough.
'They can't bear to hear what happens next.'
Will you explain?
It's just very evident, isn't it, how broken-hearted they all are?
And it's so... It's such a fine balance.
It's such a difficult...
..subject to broach,
because it's important that these stories are heard,
because these girls have been silenced for a couple of years.
And why shouldn't people know what they've been through?
And they say to me,
"We want to talk, we want to tell you what we've been through."
So when you're talking to them and you've got young girls
sobbing so much that they've got to run out of the room,
it's time to stop, but...
Even though Isis has killed, raped and tortured thousands of Yazidis
there's been very little action to help them.
They're on their own.
Before Isis, almost all of these women had a life that feels
a million miles away from being part of this dedicated military.
Someone told me you used to be a megastar.
So Khatoon, before she joined the military,
was actually a really well-known singer.
When will you start singing again, Khatoon?
'A day doesn't go by here
'without thinking about the women who are still held captive.
'Tomorrow these girls are going to fight for their loved ones
'on the other side of Sinjar Mountain.
'Everybody seems so calm this evening, but I'm terrified.
'Since I got here I've been looking at this mountain,
'where the Yazidis went to escape from Isis in 2014.
'But it became a deathtrap.'
When you hear the accounts of what happened up there, the suffering,
the 50,000 people stuck up this mountain.
People were so desperate, and they were starving,
they were throwing themselves off.
You know, babies were being laid to the side,
elderly people were being left at the bottom.
Khatoon was one of the 50,000 people stuck up the mountain.
These girls clearly take pride in looking their best,
especially when they're preparing to fight.
They seem to stand for everything
that Isis are desperate to deny women.
So, the plan today is that the girls are going to go and support the men,
who are obviously slightly further towards the front line.
Obviously, I'm feeling slightly apprehensive, I mean,
we're going to a live front line.
Where Isis are on the other side.
You know, I've never been anywhere like this in my life before.
But the decision's been made,
and...the girls have been so accommodating,
so it's good to see what their lives are like when they're on the ground.
Off we go.
Off we go.
So right now, we're driving directly into the mountain.
I've got to say,
there's a completely different atmosphere amongst the girls today.
You know, pain isn't...
the obvious emotion, there's this determination,
this strength, this optimism.
They were tortured, they were raped, they were abused.
Now see these same girls sat in the back of a truck with their guns
instead of running in the opposite direction,
they're driving head-on, straight towards Isis.
'These girls were trapped up this mountain in 50-degrees heat,
'no food, no water, Isis shooting at them
'and they survived.
'No wonder they don't feel fear any more.'
How long were you stuck here for?
Explain to me how it feels driving through this mountain,
when two years ago you were stuck up it trying to fight for your life.
I hope we're not. I'd have put a dress on.
'There are so many burnt-out cars by the side of the road.
'They were all desperately trying to escape from Isis when they crashed.
'After crossing the mountain we get to Sinjar,
'a city that Khatoon knew very well.'
I've travelled the world for, like, the past decade,
I've never seen such devastation, such destruction.
There's still Isis flags. On some of the walls,
you can still see the Isis stamps.
I see Khatoon fighting her tears, and I feel her pain too.
So many of the girls I've met are from this town,
like Inas and her family back in the refugee camp.
One of these houses was their home.
Just a short distance from Sinjar we arrive at the front line.
The girls are very quick to take their positions.
I'm not quite so fast,
still trying to get to grips with where I am.
There is a possibility at any moment to be...
'A member of our team is getting a security update
'from the front-line commander.'
So what's the situation with the bombs?
The situation is not totally safe.
There was a mortar shelling.
During this week more than 50 mortars has fallen at this front.
-And there is a possibility for that at any moment.
-At any moment you should expect a mortar falling.
Behind the trench, on the other side, there was movement.
A vehicle and a motorcycle, usually they...
take those mortars with motorcycles and vehicles.
Two mortars today has fallen at the next...point.
MAN SPEAKS OWN LANGUAGE
-Just now. A few minutes ago.
-The mortar just fell a few minutes ago?
-Yeah, in that position, next to this one.
MAN SPEAKS OWN LANGUAGE
-It is like 1km away from here.
OK, so we don't need to spend a huge amount of time here.
How do you hope the girls will be able to facilitate you?
They now have this army, they have this group, they've come to you.
They were shelling mortars just this morning, it fell about 1km away.
How do you feel about that?
ARTILLERY FIRES Fucking hell! Oh, my God!
THEY are shooting.
Fucking hell, you have to tell me when you're going to do that!
ARTILLERY CONTINUES FIRING Fucking hell.
So that firing you hear, that's from the Peshmerga.
But there was no warning. I didn't realise that they were shooting.
So I thought it was them coming for us. Erm...
We are so, so close.
I mean, you speak to the... the guys, it becomes apparent that
they only really see the Isis fighters
when they're 500 or 600 metres away.
GUNFIRE IN DISTANCE That's from them.
That's coming from them.
So now we're in a situation where both sides seem to be shooting,
I think we're going to have to get out of here quite quickly. GUNFIRE
Less than a month after I was here, the battle to liberate Mosul began
and these women are now part of the Peshmerga army
fighting on the front line.
If Isis are forced out of Mosul they could attempt to escape to Syria
through the Sinjar front line.
But what will happen to the 3,000 Yazidi women and children
still held captive?
These innocent people,
who have endured daily torture for over two years,
could now become human shields to protect the Isis fighters
as they pass Sinjar.
These women fighting are ready to risk their lives
to rescue their loved ones.
The hope to be reunited with them again is the driving force
to overcome the unthinkable and fight till the end.
One of the girls...
..she gave me...Nadia, she gave me this picture.
They've been giving me gifts.
And she's given me this, so I never forget her.
As if I will, but isn't that sweet?
One of the other girls gave me, like, this purple lippy.
I didn't have the heart to tell her that I'd probably never wear it.
It's been one of the most...
..unbelievable, eye-opening, sobering trips I've ever done.
September 2016: Stacey Dooley embeds herself on the frontline with the extraordinary all-female Yazidi battalion, who are fuelled to take revenge against the so-called Islamic State.
As the battle to take Mosul from Isis advances in Northern Iraq, in this extraordinary film for BBC Three, Stacey finds these young women's lives have been transformed by a desire to avenge their loved ones who were murdered by Isis.
In 2014, 50,000 Yazidis fled their ancestral lands in northern Iraq to Mount Sinjar, away from the advance of Isis. Without food and water, thousands died on the mountain and the ones left behind were massacred or captured. More than 5,000 women were taken to be used as sex slaves, with an estimated 2,000 women remaining in captivity.
Two years after the genocide, Stacey spends two weeks with this battalion of brave young women. Formed by a renowned Yazidi singer, they have transformed into brave fighters. Many of them have escaped the incomprehensible horrors of Isis and are determined to rescue Yazidi women still under Isis control. These female fighters strike fear into the heart of the jihadists as they believe if they are killed by a woman they will not make it to the heavenly afterlife.
Stacey meets cadets at their training camp as they prepare to join the battalion, before journeying with them to the front line as they prepare to fight.
These women share with Stacey happy memories of their previous lives, and then the unimaginable trauma they have endured at the hands of Isis. With extraordinary access, Stacey Dooley for BBC Three meets the young women seeking to avenge their sisters on the frontline with Isis.