"Ancient Russian tanks – rebel and loyalist – were lobbing shells at each other across a pistachio grove like street children throwing stones in an alleyway. The explosions sent orange columns of dust into the haze of the setting sun. Near the outpost, a government tank was smouldering, and a young girl lay dead, hit by shrapnel. A group of rebels crawled through the fields for a mile until they reached the edge of the outpost."
For three men in northern Syria, the second civil war started shortly after the first staggered into a quagmire of sectarian violence. The goals of the first war – freedom, Islam, social equality of some sort – were replaced by betrayal, defeat and anger towards rival militias, jihadis and foreign powers fighting in Syria.
Like many others, the three men are bewildered at what has become of their war. Their alliances – and their goals – are shifting. The regime is far away, the jihadis are near – and seem unstoppable. Their resources are dwindling; their families are shattered. Their villages and farm lands are lost to regime militias. Their allies are at best unreliable, and at worst actively conspiring against them.