Alice Fordham

In the heart of Beirut, architect Mona El Hallak herds a group of students together outside a monumental mansion — a vast, elegant building whose yellow walls and graceful pillars are ravaged by thousands of bullet holes.

"We are," she shouts over the cacophonous traffic, "at the intersection of Damascus Road and Independence Avenue."

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In a pink-painted village clinic converted into a field hospital a few miles from the Mosul front lines, there is no emergency care facility, so wounded Iraqi troops are just wheeled into the foyer for treatment.

Over the crackle of walkie-talkies, one of two men arriving with shrapnel wounds from a car bomb calls out, "Mohammad Jassim, my brother, where is he?"

A quickening flow of civilians is leaving the city of Mosul, fleeing fighting between Iraqi security forces and the ISIS militants who have held the city for more than two years.

A total of 28,400 people have run away since an offensive to retake the densely populated western half of the city began Feb. 19, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The war against ISIS is entering a tough new phase, as Iraqi fighters with growing U.S. assistance push into western Mosul, warns the senior American commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend.

"ISIS is a brutal, brutal enemy," said Townsend, speaking in Erbil as Iraq's security forces were about to attack Mosul's airport with help from the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

There are a lot of children playing outside in eastern Mosul. They run around the front yards of their houses, chasing each other through the alleyways, as their parents sit on plastic chairs keeping — at most — half an eye on them.

At the al-Kufa boys' school, Mustafa Salem, 13, says this freedom is new. During the 2 1/2 years that ISIS controlled his neighborhood, he was rarely allowed to leave the house.

"It wasn't good, there was no school, nothing," he said.

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