Robert Fisk in Totah, Central Syria
It’s below zero degrees on the vast dirt hillside above Totah but through the mist and freezing rain, I can see the Syrian general’s target, a small Isis-held village across a valley of mud. There’s a crash of artillery fire from his Shilka guns, and you wait several seconds before the shells fall behind a clump of hillside trees. The smoke billows into the cold air and it takes another few seconds before the sound of the explosions reaches back to us. Then another few seconds before Isis shoots back at the Syrians. Heavy machine gun fire that echoes and thumps up the wadis. Isis is not beaten yet. It still has food. From the UK, no less. Of which, more later.
The general, I should add, is nicknamed “Caesar”. Military headquarters in Damascus have now forbidden officers to give their real names – because, they say, several have been assassinated after appearing by name in the Syrian media.
For myself, I wonder if they also want to prevent generals getting big heads.
Caesar – not to be confused with his friend, the even more aggressively named General “Nimr” (Tiger) – is indeed a large man, seemingly immune to the evening frost forming on the mud, a woollen hat on his head and shades strapped over it. He used to work at the presidential palace in Damascus. And he is a man who can reveal tantalizing secrets.