The fighting in Aleppo, Syria, is as bad as any seen in Mogadishu, Grozny or Fallujah at the height of those conflicts.
That is according to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, a reporter with UK’s The Guardian newspaper who has just come out of Aleppo, and has witnessed all of those conflicts.
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Marco Werman: The United Nations said today more than 200,000 Syrians have fled their country since the start of the uprising there. In just the past 24 hours, some 3,400 Syrians have fled into Turkey, according to Turkish officials. The Guardian’s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad has made his way across the border into Turkey. He’s been reporting on the Syrian conflict for our partner program, Frontline, and he says the situation in the city of Aleppo is intense.
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad: You know, it’s the cliche of urban warfare when you see buildings collapsing, you see snipers digging holes from a building to a building. You know, it’s a mixture between, Chechnya or [inaudible] and all these cliches of, destroyed cities, and then the soldiers themselves, the fighters, they’ve kind of dispersed, different groups, small groups, there is no coordination between them, so it’s very difficult for them at this moment.
Werman: I want to ask you about the fighters, but first, let me ask you about the citizens of Aleppo. How are they faring and how are medical services holding up for the injured?
Abdul-Ahad: Well, it depends which parts of Aleppo we’re talking about. I was in [inaudible] neighborhoods and they have a couple of hospitals, a couple of field medical centers dealing with the injuries. Most of the injured people, most of the dead, up until now are civilians. It’s the civilians who just walk into the streets not knowing what’s happening and get killed by snipers. We drove in one street and there were six bodies lying in the middle of the street rotting from sniper bullets, and then you drive a couple of blocks away. When we drove into the city, we drove into this neighborhood which is still controlled by the government, and there life is totally normal and the pictures of Bashar Assad still hanging on the walls, so it’s a very awkward situation.
Werman: As for those fighters, we’ve heard reports that the native Syrian opposition has been fortified by foreign fighters, even Al Qaida. What did you see and how far away are some of these fighters coming from?
Abdul-Ahad: I saw foreign fighters. There are kind of different kinds of foreign fighters. You have the romantic rebels you see, Libyans, Palestinians who came to fight, and then you see serious foreign Jihadi’s, Chechens, Pakistani, Moroccans, Saudi, Turks, Iraq, of course, Iraq is from [inaudible], it’s become a magnet. You see rebels from different parts of Syria. You see Jihadi’s coming to fight, and the longer it takes, the more of these Jihadi’s will emerge on the scene.
Werman: Is there someone who is kind of the leader who could possibly get them organized?
Abdul-Ahad: No, absolutely not. You have half a dozen different commanders, each controlling battalions, some secular Syrian army, others Islamists, some Jihadi’s. They talk to each other, they kind of share intelligence, they share ammunition even, but there is no supreme commander of the rebels, not in Aleppo, not even in that front land of [inaudible]. There is no one commander.
Werman: And as for the opposition generally, how well armed are they?
Abdul-Ahad: New supplies are arriving now, ammunition, RPG’s, brand new RPG rockets, brand new [inaudible] ammunitions, so that gives you a sign that someone is supporting them with new ammunition.
Werman: Who is that someone, do you know?
Abdul-Ahad: Well, people tell you the Saudis. Of course, the Turks have a hand in it. It’s impossible to get all this amount of ammunition and weapons into Syria without the Turks knowing about it, without the Turks coordinating. The rebels tell me they have to do all the deals through the Syrian, the Turkish Intelligence Service. I don’t have any proof of that. This is what the rebels claim, but in my previous visits to Syria, the ammunition, all ammunition came from smugglers from Iraq or Lebanon. Now you see brand new ammunition.
Werman: Still, the army of the rebels sounds kind of piecemeal. Why isn’t the Syrian army just crushing them?
Abdul-Ahad: I have no idea, I have no idea. I stood there in the street; the rebels and the army were playing a game of cat and mouse. I think it’s a mixture of the rebels are brave. You know, they’re fighting street to street, block to block, house to house. I think the Syrian army has lost the will to fight. I mean they shell, there is no shortage or mortar shells falling on our heads, but in terms of soldiers, I don’t think they can muster enough power or courage to fight.
Werman: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Istanbul. He just returned from Syria. His film for Frontline, The Battle for Syria, will air on September 19th. Ghaith, thank you very much.
Abdul-Ahad: Thank you.
Werman: We have some video of Ghaith’s reporting in Syria for Frontline. It’s at theworld.org.
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