Asia Time Online - Daily News
Asia Times Chinese
AT Chinese

    Middle East
     Feb 1, 2012

Inside free Syria
By Derek Henry Flood

AIN AL-BAIDA, Northern Syria - Asia Times Online provides a unique look into one of the most remote corner's of the Syrian conflict.

After trekking several hours over snow-covered mountains dividing Turkey's Hatay province with northwestern Syria's Idlib governorate, Asia Times Online was given access to the group of Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters manning a hardscrabble frontline outpost above the hamlet of Ain al-Baida.

The woefully under-armed FSA volunteers face off against dug-in

regime troops with the villagers trapped in between living in an isolated war zone.

Contrary to some popular speculation, the FSA fighters stated to Asia Times Online that they receive no outside support nor are they a party to any grand internationalist conspiracy to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

To that point, they decried the absolute absence of any military or political assistance. Occupying an abandoned multi-unit private home on desolate outcropping, FSA fighters slog through dense mud after days of rain and snowfall in a purely defensive manner to assist defecting regime soldiers and the odd refugee who manages to make it into their protection.

The FSA tell of coming under daily sniper and mortar fire at their pock-marked limestone dwelling that stands for a makeshift barracks. Their only possible regional ally, Turkey, has thus far refused to help.

These solitary men know they cannot defeat the Assad regime on their own, but they insist too much blood has been spilled in Syria's cities and towns since the uprising began in mid-March 2011 for them to turn back now.

They have vowed to resist the Syrian armed forces, intelligence services and the irregular shabiha militiamen until Assad falls from power in Damascus, and they are prepared to be "martyred".

The scene Asia Times Online witnessed first-hand in Ain al-Baida was no longer an "uprising", nor a "crackdown", but an armed conflict between two distinct belligerents.

Asia Times Online was guided inside rebel-held Syrian territory by a smuggler hauling loaves of bread from the nearby Turkish border village of Guvecci. The Free Syrian Army fighters in the battle-scarred hamlet of Ain al-Baida depend on this clandestine network to sustain their defensive positions along the frontier.
All images by Derek Henry Flood. (Copyright 2012 Derek Henry Flood.)

A Syrian smuggler threads himself through rows of concertina wire demarcating the Syrian border. In his right hand he grabs a thin cord strung along the mountainside in order to rapidly repel down the steep, mud-soaked track. The descent must be made quickly to avoid incoming fire from Syrian government forces.

On arrival at the front, Asia Times Online is greeted by Yassin, the local Free Syrian Army commander (subordinate to Abu Mohammed pictured further below), who patrols the FSA's frontline position. Yassin turned to armed rebellion after participating in months of non-violent protests that did little to shake the Assad regime's resolve.

Yassin peers through a machine gun-mounted scope at a regime position across the valley. The villagers of Ain al-Baida are essentially captive in their homes as the two sides trade fire over the rooftops.

Government troops occupy a sandbagged three-story, unfinished home in Ain al-Baida that regularly harasses the Free Syrian Army with sniper rounds and mortar fire. Regime soldiers can be seen on the upper right balcony and on the corrugated roof canopy.

Many of the fighters insisted on keeping their faces covered in front of the camera for fear of families still living in the Idlib region that could potentially be victims of government reprisals.

The property where the Free Syrian Army had set up camp was littered with the detritus of the family that fled. Here hangs a portrait of a Ba'athist military officer in one of the many quarters of the compound.

Despite their lack of external backing or international recognition, the Free Syrian Army men told Asia Times Online their morale remained high because they genuinely believed their cause - the liberation of Syria from the Ba'athist rule of Bashar al-Assad - was just.

Abu Mohammed, the Free Syrian Army commander for the border region, looks out of a window with his worn Kalashnikov on alert for regime hardware movements.

The Free Syrian Army shows a hole in a steel door made by a high-velocity round from a regime sniper. In this particular assault, an FSA comrade was wounded and had to be hand-carried over the mountains separating Turkey and Syria to a hospital in Antakya. The fighter survived and remains in stable condition in Turkey.

A Free Syrian Army fighter returns from his lookout post. The rebels described themselves as being in a state of constant vigilance.

A gregarious Free Syrian Army fighter whose comrades laughingly refer to as "Osama bin Laden" for his thick black beard stands in front of the FSA's bullet-riddled limestone quarters. The rebels described fierce daily attacks by the regime.

Cigarettes are virtually the only pleasure in which the rebels partake. They subsist on food and tobacco ferried in on the backs of local smugglers. Their intense, quiet isolation is interrupted only by unpredictable volleys of fire from enemy troops stationed in Ain al-Baida.

Commander Abu Mohammed scans Ain al-Baida for regime troop movements.

A Free Syrian Army outpost in the forest that is part of a network protecting the route for defectors along the Turkish border.

Hiking back over the mountains to safety into southern Turkey, Asia Times Online silently passed a Turkish jandarma (gendarmerie) guard tower in the dark of night.

Derek Henry Flood is a freelance journalist specializing in the Middle East and South and Central Asia and is the editor of the Jamestown Foundation's Militant Leadership Monitor. He blogs at the-war-diaries.com. Follow Derek on Twiiter @DerekHenryFlood

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

What is the GCC up to in Syria?
Jan 31

Looking into the Syrian abyss
Jan 28



All material on this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
Copyright 1999 - 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings), Ltd.
Head Office: Unit B, 16/F, Li Dong Building, No. 9 Li Yuen Street East, Central, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110