Fishbowl 5: From the War zone with Richard Engel

Engel_KobaneNBC’s chief foreign correspondent and fearless globetrotter Richard Engel spent several days inside the besieged Syrian town of Kobani –embedded with Kurdish fighters—to get an on-the-ground look at  how well the U.S.’s strategy against ISIS is shaping up.

Engel and his team are the first U.S. network journalists to report from Kobani, which has become the symbol of the U.S-led battle against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Engel’s reporting will air tonight in a special segment on MSNBC at 9 p.m. ET. as well as on NBC Nightly News.

Ahead of the special, Fishbowl scored an interview with Engel for our five question and answer series “Fishbowl 5.”

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Here’s what he had to say about reporting from the battleground of Kobani.

1. As the first U.S. network journalist to report from Kobani, what is the most surprising or alarming thing you witnessed while being embedded with Kurdish fighters?

“I was surprised at how organized they are. They don’t have many military supplies, food, water or electricity, yet they are sharing what they have.  I was also surprised at their strong secular and feminist ideology.  They spent a great deal of time talking about women’s rights – which is core to their beliefs and was inspiring to see in the Middle East.”

2. What, if anything, is different about this war zone compared to other conflicts you have covered?

“Most warzones share a lot in common: the debris, the destruction, the injured, the falling bombs and bullets, what is always different is the people.  In this case, the people of Kobani, these idealistic fighting feminists, were like no other group I had been with in a conflict in the Middle East.”

3. Amid the chaos and conflict, what is the most inspiring thing you’ve seen from the people of Kobani? 

“I was impressed by their field hospitals.  The main hospital is destroyed so they use makeshift clinics in empty apartments.  They ration medicine and bandages and distribute supplies in pickup trucks.”

4. President Obama has reportedly asked his national security team to review whether the U.S. should consider changing its ISIS strategy in Syria—specifically to decide whether Assad should be removed in order to defeat the Islamic State. Since you’ve been on the ground, are you getting a sense that the U.S’s current strategy is failing?

“We have an hour on the strategy tonight at 9pmET on MSNBC which is all about this question. Many analysts and military officials I’ve spoken to say the strategy isn’t working.”

5. Are you returning to Kobani or where will you be headed next?

“Not sure.  I tend to live out of suitcases.”

Bonus question: As a veteran foreign correspondent who’s covered conflict all over the globe, what advice do you have to aspiring war reporters?

“I’d advise restraint.  It takes time.  Having a camera and guts isn’t enough.  They shouldn’t rush into the most dangerous place in the world and start a career there.  I lived in the Middle East for about seven years before I started covering full blown wars.”