Shirwan Shikho takes target practice near his home.
Warzer Jaff for BuzzFeed News
SORAN, Iraq — Shirwan Shikho stands proudly, posing in his combat gear as the sun rises above a battlefield on the outskirts of Mosul. The 22-year-old soldier is in his prime, strapping and lean, a smile on his face. It’s the morning of October 20 last year, and the US-backed offensive for the city is in its heady early days. Shirwan, a new husband and father, feels he is just where he is supposed to be. He comes from a long line of soldiers, and now, as local forces bear down on the ISIS stronghold, he is advancing with one of the most elite fighting units in Iraq.
His battalion of Kurdish special forces are gathered north of Mosul at a dusty outpost surrounded by fields, preparing to launch a daring assault through ISIS lines. He will man a machine gun mounted on an armored Humvee in the lead convoy. The brutal war on ISIS in Iraq has already left hundreds of local soldiers killed and maimed, but af..