“We have no discipline, and this is one of the fundamental problems,” observes Abu Muhammed. “They don’t follow directions; we make plans and they don’t abide by them. If they follow 15% of the plans, that is great.” A rebel leader in Syria, he’s trying to coordinate disparate forces in the ongoing struggle for control over Aleppo. As he rides through neighborhoods where battle frontlines change by the hour, he delivers ammunition and a series of plans to an assortment of fighters, “the Islamists, the Jihadi, the secular, the village based units.” Abu Muhammed is at once determined and matter-of-fact. He keeps track of how many bullets and bombs her has in a ledger, he keeps in contact with his soldiers by cellphone.
Focused on the daily chaos facing rebel fighters in Aleppo, Frontline: The Battle For Syria premieres on PBS on 18 September. This remarkable report has Guardian reporter Ghaith Andulahad riding along with Abu Muhammed and another rebel leader (and former economics student), Abu Bakri, and reveals the complexities and agonies of a battle waged in a city. Here civilians try to get on with their lives, even as shells explode or snipers take aim at one another from rooftops. When Abu Muhammed’s unit comes upon a family who were killed in their car, Ghaith notes that the “husband’s arm was still draped around his wife, in a final attempt to protect her.” And then he wonders, “Did they die immediately? Did they bleed to death? Did they hear the shots? How scared were they?” His questions hang unanswered Muhammed and his men make their way to their next delivery point. It’s hard to imagine an end to the horrors, even when the fighting stops. As Ghaith puts it, “That image, I don’t think it will leave me ever.”