Secret tunnels, suicide belts, bullets and syringes. As Iraqi and Kurdish forces slowly retake the villages and towns around Mosul that were captured by the Islamic State in June 2014, what has been left behind paints the picture of a movement that was prepared for war and nothing else, says Magnus Wennman.

The staff photographer for the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet visited those villages in the hours after Islamic State militants were chased out. “Bomb experts did their best to look for all the homemade bombs left behind, and then we were able to get into some of the houses used by ISIS,” he tells TIME. “I got the feeling that those who lived in the villages did not prepare for a future there.”

Read next: Darkness at Noon: ISIS Sets Oil and Sulfur Fires in the Battle for Mosul

Wennman’s carefully composed images paint the picture of a region in the mist of yet another upheaval as the battle to root out ISIS continues. His work shows men, women and children escaping the front lines, most of them with few belongings. “The stories they told were terrible,” he says. “Stories of starvation, torture and rape.”

“The refugee camps outside Mosul are already full,” the photographer adds, “but they are still waiting for all the people who are trapped inside in Mosul. It seems that ISIS forces them to remain inside [the city].” So far, close to 10,000 people have fled the fights, with a million still trapped inside Mosul.

Wennman is back in Stockholm now, but he hopes to return to Mosul soon, as the large-scale operation to retake the city is poised to last weeks.

Magnus Wennman is a staff photographer for Aftonbladet. Follow him on Instagram @magnuswennman.

Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s international photo editor.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

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