By the End, the Revolution in Homs Resembled a Bad Martial Arts Fight Scene

By 2013 the revolution in Homs had started to resemble a bad martial arts movie fight scene; one guy vastly outnumbered, but given all the time in the world to beat up his opponents one at a time while their friends stand about watching.

By 2013 the revolution in Homs had started to resemble a bad martial arts movie fight scene; one guy vastly outnumbered, but given all the time in the world to beat up his opponents one at a time while their friends stood about watching.

After living through the Syrian army’s February 2012 artillery and tank assault on my neighborhood of Inshaat in Homs, I moved to my home village of Talkalakh, where I met a cousin with close ties to members of the Free Syrian Army in other neighborhoods of Homs. When I inquired what those brigades were doing to relieve the pressure on Baba Amr, my cousin’s answer was astonishing;

“Nothing. Nothing at all. The different areas haven’t reached that level of co-ordination yet.”

“Lack of co-ordination” would doom the revolution not just in Homs, but in the province as a whole. Over the course of the conflict numerous different opposition outfits would spring up, my own home village having at least seven “brigades” at any one time. Loyalists would joke that the Free Syrian Army was the only army in the world with more brigades than individuals.

And for the most part, they were highly uncoordinated brigades at that. Each neighborhood and town in the province was pretty much left to fend for itself. If the regime started to besiege an area, almost no efforts were made by other brigades to relieve the targeted town or neighborhood. By 2013, the conflict in Homs province had started to resemble a very bad martial arts movie fight scene; while on the screen it might look like alot was happening, in reality the one vastly outnumbered protagonist was allowed to beat up his opponents at leisure, while their friends did little more than take poses, shout alot, and wait their turn to be pummeled.

When it comes siege warfare, each side’s most dangerous opponent isn’t the other, it is time. The besieger has to subdue his opponents before they are relieved by another force, or the ever changing fortunes of war requires a redeployment of the besieging forces. The besieged have to hold out long enough for an allied force to break the siege. If such help is not forthcoming, then it doesn’t matter how fortified the defender’s stronghold, sooner or later they will be overcome. Eating grass is not a viable method of sustaining a modern army.

In January 2012, the regime’s situation in Homs was precarious. Two-thirds of the city was in open revolt. On almost a daily basis, mukhabarat officers would be assassinated on Damascus Road, the city’s main artery. The regime needed to escalate with much heavier weapons if it hoped to bring Homs under its control again. That month, Russia and China’s vetoes of a UN Security Council resolution denouncing the regime’s crackdown provided the exact diplomatic cover the regime needed to escalate the conflict. For weeks, the Syrian army’s infantry had been unable to dislodge the FSA brigades in Inshaat. Once heavy artillery and T-72 battle tanks were deployed against the neighborhood, it took only six hours between the first shells landing in my street, and Syrian army soldiers rummaging through my drawers and under my beds. Baba Amr itself would fall after two months of sustained assault.

It was a scene that would be played out again numerous times all over Homs. Each neighborhood in the city would be besieged in turn, each one left to fend for itself. While the Syrian army could deploy soldiers from Tartous and Latakia to any far flung front as needed, it was the rare opposition brigade that would venture out of its immediate area. Rebel fighters from my home village of Talkalakh who fought in nearby Zara and Al-Hosn were considered particularly adventurous. But in a modern war, decisive breakthroughs rarely present themselves a mere dozen kilometers away from one’s home.

Homs should have been the knife pointed at the regime’s jugular. The loss of Homs province, with its vital position connection all the other provinces, would have crippled the regime’s ability to coordinate between Damascus and the coast. And by virtue of neighboring sympathetic and friendly areas in north-east Lebanon, Homs could have served as the unassailable redoubt the revolution badly needed. Indeed, for the first year of the revolution, the city had earned the moniker of “the capital of the Syrian revolution”. But by late 2013, Homs was nobody’s idea of a capital. After Baba Amr, Bab Esbe’, Bab Hood, Jourat Al-Sheyah and Khaldia would also fall to the regime, each one cut off from the other, with no prospect of relief or support from outside the city.

Homs is what happens when a movement has enthusiasm and dedication in abundance, but no focus or direction for that energy. The coordinated rebel offensive into Aleppo in the summer of 2012 was proof positive of what could be accomplished against a better armed opponent, in an urban environment where that opponent’s greatest military assets would be most ineffective. It was just a pity that the rebel coordination didn’t last much past the winter of 2012.

The Syrian revolution has had to endure alot of hardships and handicaps; unreliable and inconsistent foreign “friends”, as opposed to the neck-deep intervention on the regime’s behalf by the terrorist Lebanese Hizbollah organization and its Iranian overlords; a highly fractured and ineffectual political opposition, and the weakest President to ever reside in the White House, who far from serving as a counterweight to Russian neo-Stalinistic adventurism, seemed eager to displace Neville Chamberlain in the annals of appeasement.

But the distrust between the rebel fighting brigades was a self inflicted hardship, and for Homs it would prove to be a mortal one. Abraham Lincoln once famously said that a “house divided against itself cannot stand”. One can only hope that the past three years in Homs provides a lesson in what can happen even to a capital, when that capital stands divided against itself.