From Damascus to Daraa: Documenting the Battle in the South

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Syrian government forces wave the Syrian flag while standing on top of a building in Deir al-Adas in the Daraa province on February 11, 2015. AFP

By: Haidar Mustafa

Published Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Syrian Arab Army soldiers at the gate greet every media crew as if they are seeing their comrades. Many types of military units are stationed on the edge of the road. The formation suggests they have deployed with a great deal of organization. There, soldiers, for years, have been stationed away from the bustling city of Damascus, and away from their families in the other governorates. Below are some snapshots from the battlefield in the Syrian south.

Damascus — On Thursday morning, we set off toward the south. Getting there was not very difficult — the Syrian army had secured the highway leading to our first stop in Daraa.

At 10 am, reporters from local media gathered, as well as other outlets operating in Syria. The mission was to document the army’s advances into the northern Daraa countryside. Travelling via the Damascus-Daraa highway, we reached the latter nearly 2 hours later. The first place we stopped was Deir al-Adas, around 100 km from the capital.

We were surprised to see that traffic was very normal along the highway, even though the armed groups threatened to attack it, especially a few days after they launched an offensive to push into the highway. Ordinary people were not afraid to use the road, however, as we saw buses, trucks, and cars going in both directions.

We travelled for a while until we entered a Syrian army military zone adjacent to the highway, which led to a shortcut to Deir al-Adas.

A while later, we finally reached the town. Field commanders view Deir al-Adas as the northern gateway to the western and southern Daraa countryside. Vast areas full of cactus-like plants and flint rocks characterize the local geography. In northern Daraa, a different sort of landscape, comprising plains and small hills, had facilitated the army’s ground offensive, despite the absence of the air force from the battle due to bad weather conditions.

“There is a fierce storm moving through the country,” says one field commander in Deir al-Adas. As a result, the Syrian army relied mainly on artillery batteries, “the god of war” as the soldiers call them, to shell targets directly.

Another field commander told Al-Akhbar that the infantry had carried out a surprise attack on militant positions in the town, whose people had already fled. “Shells fell on the militants from multiple sides inflicting heavy losses among them. They were then forced to retreat from the town with the advance of our forces,” he adds.

Indeed, everything in the town suggests the battle was quick. The devastation in the buildings where the militants were holed up is relatively limited. The army bulldozers were busy establishing fortifications, while the soldiers worked on setting up their positions on the town’s perimeter.

After spending a short while in Deir al-Adas, we moved towards Deir Maker, the third town that the army declared it had retaken a few days ago, in addition to the town of al-Danaji nearby.

Deir Maker, which is close to Quneitra and the Damascus Countryside governorate lines, was as strategically important as Deir al-Adas. With the capture of these towns, the first objectives of the army’s southern offensive were reached.

A source on the field in Deir Maker told Al-Akhbar that securing the town and taking positions on a number of strategic hills in its vicinity, including Tal Merhi, Tal al-Sayyad, and Tal al-Arous, “cuts off supply lines from the Daraa countryside to Khan al-Sheikh and Jabal al-Sheikh, and helps expand the scope of the military offensive in the direction of the eastern Quneitra countryside.”

In Deir Maker, we scouted the town looking for civilians, but we only found empty homes. The residents had fled ever since the militants entered nearly two years ago. However, there are hopes they would be able to return to their homes soon, which are still structurally intact save for the bullet holes in their walls from the fighting.

Our third stop was al-Danaji, which we reached via a plain straddled by a river. Al-Danaji was different from Deir Maker and Deir al-Adas. The town had major strategic value for the militants. The destruction there was on a similar level to that in Deir al-Adas, but many of the homes here had been turned into depots for ammunition and food rations.

We entered one such depot. There were weapons caches everywhere, in addition to containers full of mortar rounds and medium-size rockets. We also saw large amounts of food, some labelled with the flag and name of the United Arab Emirates — food that militants had previously paraded in their videos as being distributed to the locals in the Daraa countryside.

All of the town’s population had fled. So why was there so much food? Why was there the flag of the UAE alongside the mortar rounds that are used to kill Syrians every day? Another warehouse had the US flag inside it, next to the rebel flag, on papers stamped with the words “For the Syrian People.” Some see this as evidence of US support for the militants.

While we were there, one soldier insisted that we take pictures of a number of large rockets hidden in a backyard. The rockets were found following tips sent to the war room, overseeing the Syrian army offensive.

After our tour, we walked along a short road back to Deir Maker and from there we went into the Damascus-Quneitra ‘Peace Highway.’ The road today is much more secure now that Deir Maker was retaken, sources in the field say.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

"Winning the hearts and minds" does not mean your army can force the population to support it, but rather the contrary: if your war is unjust and if vox populi vox dei, the voice of the people is the voice of God, then you cannot win because the people do not support you in your "theater of operations".

You making fun ? You know some civil on this planet who wants 'll stay at home when you have a shower of bombs and bullets around, even more knowing that takfiris are at your home to use you as a human shield ? Please

"Winning the hearts and minds" (of the local population) was the claimed objective of US forces in Vietnam 1965-75. And yet if the US government had read President Eisenhower's book from 1963, Mandate for Change, they'd have known that he had cancelled the referendum for Vietnam called for by the 1954 Geneva meeting that ended French occupation of Vietnam because "everybody knew that the communists would have gotten eighty percent of the vote". So the US already knew, or should have known, that the people's hearts and minds belonged to our enemy.
"Vox populi vox dei" means "the voice of the people is the voice of God" in Latin. A state might not have a democracy under its laws, or it might have one that isn't a democracy at all, like Lebanon. I would say it is the politician's main job to know what the people want. I would say the war in Syria--to get to my main point--is proving that the Assad regime is supported by most of the people.
If you are speculating about where these takfiris came from, that's a good question. What do you think?

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