HOMS PROVINCE, December 1. /TASS/. The front-most defense line of Syria’s government troops is located in the desert in the north of the Homs Province. Never-ending gales strong enough to knock you down. Swirling clouds of dust. Sand particles biting harshly into your eyes and face. And Islamic State militants’ positions just several hundred meters away.
"There’s no day without them trying to test our strength. Clashes follow one after another," says Captain Samir, whose men keep control of the Al-Shumaria Hill, Umm al-Tuyuf district some 60 kilometers away from the city of Homs. The Syrian forces that last spring rolled back the militants from Palmyra are way ahead. Here, there is a militant-held corridor several dozen kilometers deep, stretching eastwards up to Hama, with outposts of the Syrian army and the Shi’ite movement Hezbollah on both sides.
"Tensions surge at the close of day, after the sunset. Look, three vehicles have just emerged from that terrorists-held village over there," says Captain Samir as he scans the landscape with his battered army binoculars. He’s just got word of some sort of "movements" spotted inside the enemy camp.
"The odds are we’ll see them go on the offensive tonight," he concludes.
The hill has changed hands twice over the past several months. The terrorists are desperate to gain control of Al-Shumaria. From there they would easily grab control of the main traffic artery leading to Homs under fire.
Terrorist reinforcements keep arriving from neighboring Iraq, while the "tired and fatigued" militants leave for Raqqa, proclaimed as the Islamic State’s capital in Syria, for medical treatment and recreation.
Just several dozen officers and men, and less than a dozen others at a field post in the rear keep the hill under control. A motorbike is the sole means of transport to get from one post to another using the only road connecting the two. A Soviet-made four-wheel-drive army truck GAZ-66 has been out of order since last summer. Spare parts are hard to come by. Soldiering is never easy, but there is hardly any place where it could be tougher. This tiny fort lacks everything - personnel, firepower, ammunition, transport and fuel. Getting food is a real problem. Night vision instruments are the greatest necessity of all, though, for nothing can come in more handy when the enemy mounts a night-time attack.
Nor can the Syrian soldiers fully trust the local civilians - mostly Bedouin tribesmen, who feel free to take their sheep graze on militants-held territories in daytime to return to their home villages for the night.
"We never take food from them. Even when they try to share some with us for free. No place for cronyism with these people," says private Hamid, while thoroughly searching another cart on the road.
Hamid is a Sunni from Deir ez-Zor. His home city is under the militants’ tight siege. Hamad’s whole family is trapped there and just the thought of it drives the young man to be beside himself with anxiety, to say the least.
This tiny but highly mobilized unit of the Syrian army is clear evidence that all the allegations that Syria is the scene of a religious war are thoroughly false.
"See for yourself, man. Here we have both Shi’ites and Sunnis. There are also Kurds and one Druze," Captain Samir says with a smile and waves his hand towards a young lad below average height wearing combat fatigues. "We are one people, one nation. United we stand." Captain Samir instantly turns serious.
A handful of Syrian army soldiers, the strength of a company at the most, stationed in the middle of nowhere, have to hold the fort and keep the flag flying under incredibly harsh conditions, but all men here see it as their daily routine, devoid of any pathos.
Not a single journalist or TV camera crew, even from Syrian television, has ever visited this place before, so the nation knows neither the heroes’ names, nor their faces. It is to be hoped, though, that fellow Syrians will someday both learn and pay respects to these half-starved, thirsty young men, who are holed up in sand-bagged improvised shelters that have been their home for many months, and who go on fighting, giving their lives for their native country in the war against international terrorism.