ALEPPO, Syria: The no-man’s land is only three meters wide. The Turkishmilitary checkpoints and patrols watch Syrians moving across the border but normally don’t interfere. Across the no-man’s land are villages of Syria’s Aleppo province, the biggest in terms of size, population and commerce. Three Syrianmen guided four foreign journalists across the border in a dark cloudy night. In a cluster of old trees about 100 meters into Syria awaited jeep painted in camouflage colors. As the media-men board the vehicle, the trio casuallywalked back to the Turkish side. Since Abu Amir, the young driver wearing military fatigues, only spoke Arabic or pretended so for every member of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is not permitted to speak to media. Ignoring the metalled road, he crisscrossed through the woods for 15 to 20 minutes. The battalion headquarters, as the FSA guides called it, comprised of fourwhite tents pegged in 100-meter radius. The commander, Abdullah, appeared within minutes after the journalists finished the tea and eat some dates while sitting on carpets. From his looks, he seemed a 28 year-old athletic tall man with green eyes and extremely fair complexion. “Hello, gentlemen! Welcome to the land of the free. Please feel at home and ask whatever you want to,” he greeted, in authentic American accent. Seeing curious faces of the guests, Abdullah explained, “I lived in New York for 12 years, completed my degree in medicine and have a job there as well.” “When are you going back then? The fighting may take months if not years,” a colleague asked. Nodding in disagreement, Abdullah told the group that he came here on two-month leave to serve Syrian people as doctor but the commanders found a better soldier in him. “We are going to wrap up in Ramazan or hopefully be by the 15th,” he said as if it was scheduled but the world did not know. Abdullah introduced the journalistswith his ‘men’who looked more like college-going boys. They hailed fromvarious villages of Aleppo but had never met before. Amongst his 30-odd men, four were Orthodox Christians and two Alawites, belying the claim that uprising for Syria’s democratic future was merely a sectarian battle waged only by oppressed Sunni Muslims. Hearing a song of Umme Kulsoom in such wilderness, a journalist asked, “Who has themood and time here for entertainment.” Abdullah laughed aloud and replied, “The singer is the best known icon in the Arab world and the song is about love for the country.” He explained that Syrians and Arabs grow up listening to these epic stories of patriotism. “And then we are all human beings, fighting for our loved ones, our country and people both,” he responded. This correspondent, who found the camp strikingly similar to the one he visited in Khost 13 years ago, realized stark difference in the two mindsets. Taliban had no room for music while FSA got inspiration from it. The Afghan militia was exclusive but the anti-Baathist was so inclusive that religion did notmatter in struggle for democracy. As the group walked to a hilltop, Abdullah was greeted by an elderly Syrian. “Please meet Major Mahmood! He is a commando who fought against the Israeli and was quite regime’s military last year to fight for the people.” The well-built officer though hailed from a nearby village but had not seen his parents and wife for the last six months. “Would you see you home after inspecting the posts,” he was asked. Mahmood said, “May Allah protect them, I have to cover a huge area before leaving for Idlib at sahoor (early Ramazan breakfast).” Abdullah explained later that for weeks, his men cannot go home though they may be patrolling in the same street. While driving the journalists from Turkish border, Syrian guide Jamal had said, “We have a wider and bigger view of home now. It is something we never experienced before.” To a question as to what brought him to Syria, Abdullah said, “My life in New York was quite hip-hop, Booze, dance and women!” He stopped for a few second and then continued, “One day my childhood friend Rasool sent me photographs of destroyed buildings, burnt schools and hospitals. These were picture from southern city of Dara’awhich became the cradle of uprising.” Abdullah found a mission in his wayward life and raised funds and awareness. “I could not find inner satisfaction till the time I decided to treatmy people wounded by the regime.” Though over 18,000 Syrian troops, including 25 generals and dozens of mid-ranking officers, have defected to join Free Syrian Army, the militia has pilots, soccer players, bankers, businessmen, hand laborers and teachers in its ranks. “We don’t cook food for ourselves. We travel with dates, chickpeas, olives and water,” said Mahmood, adding that his men are trained not leave traces of presence behind to evade detection. Owing to popularity of uprising, the locals are said to provide food first for FSA and then giving to their own children. Regarding the casualties suffered owing to disproportionate government firepower, Abdullah says, “Yes, the FSA men embraced martyrdom but the number always keeps rising, the strength only increases.” Though he did not share in much detail but hinted to have arrested over three dozens of Farsi speaking fighters with foreign identification cards. “We did not kill them. They would be shown to media at an appropriate time,” Abdullah says. He believes that Assad does not rely on Syrian troops anymore and the brutal operations across the country are handiwork of non-Syrian fighters. At the same time, Moscow does not just remain an external great power vetoing UN Security Council resolution against Bashar Al-Assad regime but also has more lethal character displayed in the skies and streets of Syria. Every day and night, Syria’s youth wielding AK-47s, the erstwhile Communist superpower’s best known invention, braves deadly munitions fire of the Soviet- era gunships and Russian tanks. Probably, Soviet munitions remain the FSA’s only commonality with the Taliban militia of Afghanistan.