A little girl amid a pile of bodies was rescued by an American aid worker sprinting out from behind a tank in the besieged city of Mosul despite the threat of ISIS sniper fire this month. The moment, captured on video, shows the devastation of Iraq's struggle to end the ISIS insurgency.
The video shows veteran Dave Eubank rush through a cloud of smoke toward the corpses as two other men from his group provide covering fire from behind a tank. Seconds later, he reemerges with the girl scooped in his right arm and passes her off to another volunteer from his group, a Syrian refugee who speaks to the girl in Arabic.
"I just prayed to God and told her I'd knew we'd save her," Eubank said. "I told her in English, as we're running through the gunfire, 'If no one will have you, if there's nowhere out there for you, don't worry. I'll adopt you.'"
The footage captures the harrowing reality that civilians face amid the battle for Mosul, and it's been shared widely online. One tweet showing the incident has more than 16,000 retweets, and he's earned praise from Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., among others.
Street-by-street fighting has left much of Mosul in northern Iraq crumbling, and ISIS has increasingly been killing civilians as it struggles to maintain control, according to Eubank and the United Nations, whose human rights division found credible reports that it slaughtered at least 204 people over three days — including at the gutted Pepsi factory where Eubank's rescue took place.
On Tuesday in the city, ISIS destroyed the iconic mosque where it announced its caliphate in 2014 as Iraqi forces approached, according to the Iraqi government.
Eubank, who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and is from Southern California, told NBC that his rescue was part of a coordinated effort on June 2 to save the few people who survived a mass attack.
A crowd of 30 to 40 civilians had been gunned down outside the former Pepsi factory while trying to flee their neighborhood in the northwest part of the city.
"We see ISIS shooting people daily, but not in those numbers," he said. "They're just sweeping the highway with fire, killing anyone trying to flee, and there were a couple of living people among the dead."
Eubank and his aid organization, the Free Burma Rangers, had been called in by Iraqi forces the day before to provide medical aid to wounded civilians. After hearing from victims that there were still survivors, the group hatched a plan with the U.S. military to rescue them, including the young girl.
The video begins just after U.S. forces had dropped smoke canisters in order to conceal Eubank — who is wearing only a helmet and bulletproof vest — and a team of American and Iraqi soldiers conducting the rescue, he said.
Other videos from the rescue that he provided to NBC show Eubank and his team rescuing a young man from the same pile of bodies moments later, then carrying the pair to safety.
Eubank said he founded the Free Burma Rangers, which is currently embedded in the Iraqi army's 9th division, after leaving his army post in order to "serve God in a different way" and "help people, with the freedom to do it."
Besides medics and aid workers, every team includes a videographer to capture and spread news about the atrocities of the war zones where they work.
"We video everything: refugees getting fed, people having fun, people getting shot," Eubank said. "I've been doing this for 20 years, and many of the people I meet say, 'Please tell the Americans about us, please tell the Americans we need help.'"
He added, "We want people to know the Iraqis are wonderful people and worthy of being helped."
The little girl he rescued was taken to the hospital "terrified, devastated and dehydrated," Eubank said, and is now in the care of an Iraqi general. Though calls have been put out on social media in search of any surviving relatives, the general is filing adoption papers in the increasingly likely case that no one is found.