A few days ago I had a meeting with a commander of the FSA, Free Syria Army, this was only possible because he is a friend of a friend. We met outside of Syria for security reasons. He is based in Aleppo and is very clear about what is happening in his country. Abu, not his real name, is from one of the old wealthy families that pre-date the Assad dynasty. Well educated and speaking perfect English, he has a great love for his country. He and many others like him are fighting this war because they want a Syria that gives opportunities to all the people, not only the tribes and families that are linked to the government. It is a big dream, only time will tell if it will happen! The challenges faced are enormous. The first, is uniting the different fighting groups under a single command structure, it is taking time but they are making progress. Many of the fighters are simple people. Teaching and showing them how to fight is a challenge. They need basic training. Field stripping and cleaning a weapon is something the majority have yet to learn. The other big problem is funding. They are are trying to finance themselves as much as possible but external help is needed. At the moment funding is fragmented and quite often comes with conditions attached. For example, certain Saudi families will provide money but only if the fighting men grow beards and live by a stricter Islamic law. The FSA want to build a secular state that is tolerant of all religions, to accept the Saudi conditions in order to get funding goes against the principles they are fighting for. There are many FSA fighters in the Aleppo region and despite a lack of equipment and training their spirit is strong and they are well bonded. They spend 12 hours at the front line and 12 hours resting. Food is simple, vegetables and boiled eggs. Sometimes there is meat. But it is enough to keep the men and women sustained and full of energy. That’s right, women are fighting on the frontline. In fact some women have distinguished themselves so well that they have been promoted to positions of command of combat soldiers. Abu told me that the female commanders are better at organizing their troops than their fellow male commanders. Before I met Abu I was reconsidering if I should go to Syria. After all, if I’m dead, I can’t report anything. However, knowing that I have the the full support of the FSA in Aleppo makes me more determined than ever to get over there and begin showing the world what is happening. Abu said that one of the most important things that needs to be documented are the continuing peaceful demonstrations. The fighting is only part of the revolution but the Syrians are still demonstrating against the government in a peaceful way and this is now being largely ignored by mainstream news channels.
If all goes well I should be ready to go to Syria in late December and stay there for a couple of months. The FSA are giving me a their full support. I must make one thing clear, my reporting will be strictly neutral. I aim to photograph, video and write as much as possible in order to try and bring clarity to a very complex situation.