Within a month these young recruits will be sent to the frontline in Aleppo
Volunteers for the Amr Ibn al-Aass brigade train on the outskirts of Azaz in northern Syria on September 19. Under the watchful eyes of senior fighters, who call themselves trainers or shooting coaches, 20 teenagers try to follow orders in what their instructors call a campaign to "rid Syria of tyranny." © Miguel Medina - AFP
Within a month these young recruits will be sent to the frontline in Aleppo
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Marie Roudani, AFP
Last updated: September 20, 2012

Day one for young Syrian rebels in training

They wear T-shirts or tight tops and sandals but try to look tough -- this is day one for young rebel recruits at a training camp in northern Syria.

Under the watchful eyes of senior fighters, who call themselves trainers or shooting coaches, 20 teenagers try to follow orders in what their instructors call a campaign to "rid Syria of tyranny."

"I saw the (rebel) Free Syrian Army chase the army out of my town, Aazaz, and that's why I wanted to join" the revolt, said Abu Ahmed, 22, who was an engineering student when the uprising erupted back in March 2011.

Today he has joined the ranks of the rebels who have been fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces for the past 18 months.

In a playful atmosphere, instructors explain almost everything, including how to shout out the slogans of the revolt to the young men, some of them still without the beards typical of most fighters.

Another workshop is a shooting range. The setup is very simple -- a rudimentary piece of cardboard taped to a wall riddled with bullets is the target.

The trainers were themselves recruits who had to be trained when fighting broke out, in a conflict which has left more than 27,000 dead, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The United Nations puts the death toll at 20,000.

All the bullets fired by the instructors hit the target, under the impressed eyes of the young recruits.

Jassem, 31, an instructor, said that within a month these young recruits will be sent to the frontline in Aleppo, the northern commercial city and scene of intense fighting between regime troops and rebels since July 20.

Training at the school in Aazaz, 60 kilometres (35 miles) north of Aleppo, comprises two parts: 15 days of theory, including Muslim religious lessons, and two weeks of practice, including the use of weapons, explained Jassem.

"These young people prefer to come here rather than do military service. They know that the army kills children," said one of his colleagues, before returning to motivate his recruits with loud cries.

Inside the barracks, 45-year-old engineer Abdel Kamel, the second in command of Amr Ibn al-Aass Brigade, has just one criteria to recruit his men.

"They must believe in the principles of the revolution: freedom, justice and dignity," he said.

He is frequently interrupted by the ringing of his phone, which has an English song as its ring tone, as his brigade takes appeals from local residents for humanitarian aid.

Outside young men rest in the shade, leaning against a wall.

Two hours after the AFP team left, the regime's warplanes targeted the training camp, rebels said. Nobody was hurt but part of the barracks where the recruits did their first day of training was wrecked.

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