RAQQA, Syria - When ISIS seized control of much of Syria and Iraq in 2014, their stated goal was to create an Islamic caliphate that would dominate the entire region with their extremist ideology.
It took nearly five years for world powers to retake that territory, and even to this day, the scars of war are everywhere in Northern Syria - reminders of the brutality of that conflict.
Mahamed Ahmed has seen it first hand, having been shot six times while fighting ISIS as an Iraqi soldier.
"You see this piece of metal like pipe and they cut it and they weld it and they make a small hole and they put explosive stuff inside it and they make a charger with wire, and they bomb like armor or tanks or people and these things make like a huge explosion," explained Ahmed.
While walking around an abandoned village in northern Syria, it's easy to see why millions of people fled this conflict and went to other places like Europe and Turkey, and even the United States.
It's likely that they won't want to come back anytime soon.
Moving back to the area would be very difficult since their animals are gone. Their homes are practically destroyed and wells are dried up.
So that means it's going to continue to be costly to the entire world as more and more people become wards of the United Nations, the world food program, and other organizations that have to keep feeding these people to help them survive.
Once the headquarters of the self-proclaimed ISIS Caliphate, the city of Raqqa is still picking up the pieces after the terror group lost the city in 2017.
But citizens say things are far better than before.
"Life is more better for the last time because we have safety," pointed out Ismael, a shopkeeper in Raqqa. "Safety for our children. This is our city. We love our city. We can't leave our city."
When ISIS was in control, locals never knew if they'd live to see another day.
"Die everywhere, and the ashes of people everywhere ... horrible thing in every minute in Raqqa," Ismael added. "We can't think of anything more than bread just to stay survive."
But threats remain. After the disastrous U.S. pullout from Afghanistan, ISIS affiliates around the world have stepped up attacks.
In Syria, the terror group began taking ground for the first time since 2017 and making coordinated attacks against civilian and military targets.
The city of Kobane saw some incredibly fierce fighting back in 2014 and 2015 during a five-month siege by ISIS.
And the Kurds successfully drove them out, which was an ISIS high-water mark, but there were some unbelievable battles in that process.
Now, ISIS is starting to reconstitute in Syria's Deir ez-Zor and ISIS could resurge around the world in the months ahead.
These developments are especially concerning as the U.S. looks to end combat operations in neighboring Iraq, leaving many in the region fearing a repeat of the disastrous pullout in Afghanistan.
In Northeast Syria, Kurdish fighters are staying vigilant, determined not to let ISIS repeat the horrors of 2014. And citizens are hoping American foreign policy won't leave them on their own. "Now we looking to the hope," said Ismael. "Thank God, now a little hope. That's good."