CBS News' Charlie D'Agata gives a behind-the-scenes look at covering the last, long battle with ISIS

Covering the final push against ISIS
Covering the final push against ISIS 04:19

A driver working with an NBC News crew was killed over the weekend in Syria -- a tragic reminder of the dangers journalists face every day as they cover conflicts. As the fight against ISIS took a new turn, CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata gave an inside look at what it was like for his team to cover the final fight against the terror group in Syria.

Before creeping up to the cliff side overlooking ISIS' position, the SDF forces gave us strict instructions, relayed by producer Omar Abdulkader:

"They don't want any lights facing the other side, otherwise we'll be exposed to snipers."

As soon as Abdulkader uttered those words, we came under fire. There was a high-pitched whizzing noise as the bullets flew overhead.

"We just heard fire coming over that ridge," I told the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) troops. "Do we really want to go?"

Apparently "no, we don't," wasn't an option, so on we went.

Final battle with ISIS in Syria drags on 01:58

As we peered over the hilltop into the burning ISIS camp below, one prevailing thought was, "how on Earth did we get here?"

We'd been covering the "final fight" against ISIS since early January. It should have been no surprise that the group's reign of terror over nearly 10 million people was never going to end easily -- or quickly.

But nobody imagined that a military base run by the U.S.-backed SDF would become our "home" for almost three months.

One of the biggest challenges for producer Steve Berriman was trying to get any communications out of eastern Syria.

The nights were bitterly cold, at times hovering right around the freezing mark. Our only source of heat was the fire we kept burning. But over time we managed to make life a bit more bearable.

Even the room at the base was given a good clean, and we brought in some beds -- with some pretty horrible mattresses, but it was good enough.

We didn't want to be a burden to our SDF hosts, so we brought in our own food, which, thanks to producer Erin Lyall and Karl Taylor on security, actually wasn't all that bad. Check out Lyall's "Food Under Fire" blog for an amazing inside look at front-line dining.

With no running water, "showers" were improvised -- and limited -- in the great outdoors.  

But as the fight against ISIS moved further south, so did we.

Close look at ISIS' last stronghold in Syria 02:34

We entered Baghouz, ISIS' last tiny foothold in the sprawling territory it once held. The battle had already raged for weeks to try and push the holdout ISIS fighters back. You could the destruction all around as we entered the town. It was as close as we'd gotten to ISIS.  

A day spent avoiding snipers on the frontline with SDF soldiers, stretched into the night. We had no choice but to sleep outside. Driving back away from the frontline at night was deemed even riskier than staying put.

We didn't sleep much.

"I kept thinking someone was coming up to shoot us," Lyall said. I wasn't worried about that. It was just the airstrikes -- there were a lot of airstrikes that night. And the incessant rat-a-tat-a-tat of gunfire.  

Soon we were on the move again.

We returned to that cliff overlooking Baghouz just as the fighting was coming to an end. 

It seemed somehow fitting that a terror group that unleashed such brutality upon so many innocent people should face a final humiliating defeat here, in a scrap heap in a no-name town. And we had seen it through to the bitter end.

ISIS loses its final stronghold in Syria 02:30