The famous British writer, Robert Fisk, reported Saturday that “the Syrian Army is fighting for Syria and not al-Assad. They may also be winning”.
In his report published in “The Independent”, Fisk mentioned that despite the fact that “death stalks the Syrian regime just as it does the rebels, on the front line of the war, the regime’s army is in no mood to surrender”.
From inside Syria, the writer said: “Clouds hang oppressively low over the Syrian army’s front-line mountain-top in the far north of Syria. Rain has only just replaced snow, turning this heavily protected fortress into a swamp of mud and stagnant ponds where soldiers man their lookout posts with the wind in their faces, their elderly T-55 tanks – the old Warsaw Pact battle horses of the 1950s – dripping under the showers, their tracks in the mud, used now only as artillery pieces”.
They are “rubbish tanks” – debeba khurda – Fisk told Colonel Mohamed, commander of the Syrian army’s Special Forces unit across this bleak landscape.
The latter grins at him. “We use them for static defense,” he says frankly. ‘They do not move”.
Before the crisis, Jebel al-Kawaniah was a television transmission station. But when the anti-government rebels captured it, they blew up the towers, cut down the forest of fir trees around it to create a free-fire zone.
On their maps, the Syrian army codenamed “Kawaniah Mountain” according to their own military co-ordinates. It became “Point 45” – Point 40 lies east through the mountain gloom – and they spread their troops in tents under the trees of two neighboring hills.
According to Fisk, “such access to the Syrian army was almost unimaginable just a few months ago and there are good reasons why”.
“The army believe they are at last winning back ground from the Free Syrian Army and the al-Nusra fighters and the various al-Qaeda satellites that now rule much of the Syrian countryside. From Point 45 they are scarcely a mile and a half from the Turkish frontier and intend to take the ground in between. Outside Damascus they have battled their way bloodily into two rebel-held suburbs”.
While Fisk was prowling through the mountaintop positions, the rebels were in danger of losing the town of Qusayr outside Homs. The main road from Damascus to Latakia on the Mediterranean coast has been reopened by the army.
He further underscored that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Special Forces “now appear confident, ruthless, politically motivated, a danger to their enemies, their uniforms smart, their weapons clean”.
Syrians have long grown used to the claims by “Israel” – inevitably followed by the Washington echo machine – that chemical weapons have been used by the Syrian forces; as an intelligence officer remarked caustically in Damascus: “Why should we use chemical weapons when our Mig aircraft and their bombs cause infinitely more destruction”?
Colonel Mohamed spoke ruefully of the troopers on family leave who, he said, were executed with knives when they entered enemy territory.
Asked that “Israel” is in the North and not on the Turkish borders, Colonel Mohamed – who has four bullet wounds in his arms to show that he leads his soldiers from the front, not from a bunker – confirmed that his soldiers were surely meant to be liberating the Golan Heights from “Israel”.
“I know, but we are fighting “Israel”. I joined the army to fight “Israel”. And now I am fighting “Israel’s” tools. And the tools of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, so in this way we are fighting for Golan. This is a conspiracy and the West is helping the foreign terrorists who arrived in Syria, the same terrorists you are trying to kill in Mali”.
On the road to Qastel Maaf, a general told Fisk that on the highway to the Turkish border, the army have just killed 10 Saudis, two Egyptians and a Tunisian. The soldiers at Point 45 produced for the British writer three handset radios they have captured from their enemies. One is marked “HXT Commercial Terminal”, the other two are made by Hongda and the instructions are in Turkish.
At this point, Fisk asked them if they listen to the rebel communications. “Yes, but we don’t understand them”, a major replied. “They are speaking in Turkish and we don’t understand Turkish”. So are they Turks or Turkmen Syrians from the villages to the east? The soldiers shrug. They added: “They have also heard Arabic voices speaking with Libyan and Yemeni accents”.
Then Fisk went into a smashed village called Beit Fares where hundreds of Syrian soldiers can be seen patrolling the surrounding forests, and another general fished into his pocket and produced an army mobile phone video of dead fighters. “All are foreign”, he highlighted.
Opposite a bullet-riddled school building is a pulverized house. “A local terrorist leader died there with all his men”, the colonel stated. “They did not surrender”.
But at Beit Fares, some rebels did escape earlier this year, along – so said General Wasif from Latakia – with their own local leader, a Syrian businessman.
Colonel Mohamed remarked quietly that when they stormed into the village, they found cars and trucks with Turkish military plates – but no Turkish soldiers.
One of the officers referred to an old story about the Umayyad Caliph Muawiya who said that he kept a thin piece of his own hair “to connect me to my enemies”. “The Turks have left this one frontier open with us,” the officer stated, “so as not to cut the hair of Muawiya”.
The Turks still want to maintain a physical connection with the regime. Erdogan isn’t certain that Bashar al-Assad will lose this war.
Many of the soldiers showed their wounds; more valuable to them, medals or badges of rank. Besides, the officers have already removed their gold insignia on the front lines – unlike Admiral Nelson, they do not wish to be picked off by the rebels’ early morning snipers.
On a roadway, a second lieutenant showed Fisk his own wounds. There is a bullet’s entry below his left ear. On the other side of his head, a cruel purple scar runs upwards towards his right ear. He was shot right through the neck and survived. He was lucky.
So were the Special Forces soldiers who patrolled towards a hidden land-mine, an IED in Western parlance. A young Syrian explosives ordnance officer in Qastal Maaf showed Fisk the two iron-cased shells that were buried under the road. One of them is almost too heavy for Fisk to lift. The fuse is labeled in Turkish. An antenna connected to the explosives was strung from the top of an electricity pole for a line-of-sight rebel bomber to detonate. A technical mine-detector – “all our equipment is Russian”, the soldiers boasted – alerted the patrol to the explosives before the soldiers walked over them.
But death hovered over the Syrian army, just as it haunted their enemies. The airport at Latakia is now a place of permanent lamentation. No sooner do Fisk arrive than he find families crying and tearing their faces in front of the terminal, waiting for the bodies of their soldier sons and brothers and husbands, Christians for the most part but Muslims too. One Christian woman was restrained by an old man as she tried to lie down on the road, tears streaming down her face.
A general in charge of the army’s bereaved families told him that the airport is too small for this mass mourning. “The helicopters bring our dead here from all over northern Syria”, he said. “We have to look after all these families and find them housing, but sometimes I go to homes to tell them of the death of a son and find that they have already lost three other sons as martyrs. It is too much”.
Military statistics I was shown suggest that 1,900 soldiers from Latakia have been killed in this awful war, another 1,500 from Tartus.
In Hayalin, for example, the village of 2,000 souls has lost 22 soldiers with another 16 listed as missing. In real terms that’s 38 dead. Many were killed in Jisr al-Shughur back in June of 2011 when the Syrian army lost 89 dead in a rebel ambush. A villager called Fouad explained that there was one survivor who came from a neighboring village. “I telephoned him to ask what happened to the other men,” he said. “He said: ‘I don’t know because they cut out my eyes.’ He said that someone led him away and he thought he would be executed but found himself in an ambulance and was taken to hospital in Latakia”.
One of the Jisr al-Shughur dead was returned to Hayalin, but relatives found that his coffin contained only his legs. “The latest martyr from Hayalin was killed only two days ago,” Fouad told me. “He was a soldier called Ali Hassan. He had just got married. They couldn’t even return his body”.
That rebel forces threaten the families of government soldiers is a long-established fact. But one private told Fisk bleakly of how his elder brother was ordered to persuade him to desert the army. “When I refused, they broke my brother’s legs”, he said.
Colonel Mohamed, said he regarded the foreign “plot” against Syria as a repeat version of the Sykes-Picot Agreement of the First World War, when Britain and France secretly decided to divide up the Middle East – including Syria – between them.
“Now they want to do the same,” he added. “Britain and France want to give weapons to the terrorists to divide us, but we want to have a united Syria in which all our people live together, democratically, caring not about their religion but living peacefully…” And then came the crunch. “Under the leadership of our champion Dr Bashar al-Assad”.
Fisk, thus, concluded “The soldiers of what is officially called the Syrian Arab Army are fighting for Syria rather than al-Assad…They are winning an unwinnable war”.
Source: The Independent