Two final articles from the Syria trip last month.
April 17, 2014
DAMASCUS, Syria -- Mosab Khalaf remembers the exact moment when he became a revolutionary, and the exact moment when he walked away.
The first came early in the Syrian uprising, in the spring of 2011, when a friend dragged Khalaf, then 19, to a protest in Attal, a town in suburban Damascus. When he arrived, Khalaf was stunned by what he saw.
Near the central town square, security forces dressed in full combat gear had begun to descend on a crowd of several hundred demonstrators, who were marching with flags and chanting anti-government slogans. Khalaf watched as some of the officers grabbed hold of an elderly man, who had fallen behind the retreating protesters, and dragged him back across the square, beating him along the way.
“They were like monsters,” he said. “They were punching him, and he tripped and fell on the ground, and so they started kicking him, yelling at him, ‘Stand up!’ But of course he couldn’t stand up. He tried to, and they would kick him again.”
The second pivotal moment for Khalaf came a few months later, as the peaceful uprising began to lose momentum and some protesters started taking up weapons against government attacks.
April 11, 2014
SLONFEH, Syria -- The commander tore off a piece of bread and dipped it into a platter of hummus. Before him sat a spread of simple mountain dishes and grilled meats -- a late lunch after a long day along the northern front of Syria's war.
"I see this war in black and white, angels and devils," said the commander, who, like every military official interviewed in Syria by The Huffington Post during a visit last month, spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I am on the side of white, and they are on the side of black."
The commander, who holds the rank of colonel and has been in the Syrian army for two decades, bore a calm, certain demeanor. He had the jaded aspect of an aging veteran despite only being in his forties, with a young face and soft frame. After service in Lebanon and the Kurdish town of Qamishli, the current three-year-old uprising, he said, has been his toughest fight yet, one that has left him with no doubts about its propriety.
"You can't even imagine the blackness in their minds," he said of the rebels. "That it even still exists in this world, at this time."
The northern front the commander and his troops patrol, in the rugged, craggy hills and valleys of Latakia province, is proving to be one of the war's most stubborn -- and most important.