A message came through from Syria on my mobile phone last week. “General Khadour kept his promise,” it read. I knew what it meant.
Five years ago, I met Mohamed Khadour, who was commanding a few Syrian soldiers in a small suburb of Aleppo, under fire from Islamist fighters in the east of the city. At the time, he showed me his map. He’d recapture these streets in 11 days, he said.
And then in July this year, I met Khadour again, far out in the east of the Syrian desert. He was, he said, going to enter the besieged city of Deir ez-Zour before the end of August. I reminded him, a trifle cruelly, that the last time he told me he’d recapture part of Aleppo in 11 days, it took the Syrian army more than four years to retake. That was long ago, he said. In those days, the army had not learned to fight in a guerrilla war. The army were trained to retake Golan and defend Damascus. But they had learned now.