Text by Abu Salman al-Britani published by Fursan Al Sham Media on November 12, 2016
My first battlefield experience:
When you think of a battle, what goes through your mind? What images pop up? Most likely you will picture yourself running at the enemy fearlessly roaring “Allahu Akbar!”. You might even picture yourself doing what ‘Umair bin Al-Humam (may Allah be pleased with him) did when he was standing in the vanguard of the Muslim army eating dates and said, “if I live long enough eat all these dates of mine, it would be a long life”. You might picture yourself as a Rambo-style Mujahid where you would take out an entire army solo. You might even think you will be able to disassociate yourself from the pleasures of this world easily, never looking back. Unfortunately, it is not that simple and no one can feel the reality of a battle regardless of how many movies or clips one watches until he has actually been there. The propaganda clips and videos do not show you the harsh truth, rather the videos show short footage of the Mujahideen attacking, killing the enemy, and taking their positions.
Before coming to Syria, I thought I would read some verses of Qur’an or ahadeeth on the virtues of Jihad and martyrdom, and that would motivate me, giving me the courage to run at the enemy – chasing after death. Yes, reading verses and ahadeeth are essential to a Mujahid, and knowledge is what will keep a brother steadfast in the heat of battle. But even with knowledge one commits sins and has a natural fear. Sins come back to bite you when on the frontlines. I have had brothers telling me that they will only remember their sins when they are on the frontlines. As Allah says, “if you remember Me at times of ease, I will remember you at times of hardship”. When you are in a battle you are coming face to face with death, and at times you get to the point where you think that’s it, you’re done for.
It is in the battlefield where you can test your faith and your desire to achieve martyrdom. When you have artillery shells raining down upon you and bullets flying at you in plain view, it has become real. The prophet said, “the shining swords above the head of the martyr are Fitnah enough”. A brother once told me after participating in his first battle, that now He understood the hadith, now we understand why there is such a tremendous reward.
My first battle was the offensive on the besieged Shia towns of Kafarya and Fou’a. I was feeling a bit apprehensive because it was my first battle but at the same time I was excited and eager to be a part of the operation. When the battle approached we set off for a frontline base which allowed us to go for guard duty and reconnaissance of the enemy positions. At that point we were not exactly sure when the battle was but we knew that it was very near so we merely observed the enemy positions that we were intending to attack. This gave us a clear picture of the surrounding area. As a solider you do not want to go in blind, you must have a good idea of the region and its important points.
On the day of the battle, we gathered on the frontline as our artillery was hammering regime positions. I was put with the medical team, so my duty was to assist injured brothers in getting to the field hospital and to provide ammunition and food to the brothers deeper inside. The battle started with three martyrdom operations, one carried out by a Scottish brother. When our tanks first began firing I reflexively jumped because I had never heard anything similar to it before, it was a new experience. At one point as I was holding the rifle just below my chin, I again jumped on reflex because of our tank fire which resulted in my rifle hitting my chin.
A few minutes into the battle, my assigned leader called me. There were some brothers who needed medical assistance so we sprinted towards them. Now I was crossing the frontline, I had no clue where the enemy was and if there were any enemy snipers around. My job was to put my head down and run as fast as I could to the injured brothers. Despite being physically active my whole life, I was out of breath due to sprinting while fully geared up.
When we reached the injured, there were four brothers. One was injured in the thigh, another was breathing his last breath, and two were dead. I looked at the scene and froze, I wasn’t sure what to do. I was not panicking but rather it was new to me, it was my first battle. In front of me lay a brother with the majority of his head missing and the whole of his brain exposed. This did not scare me nor did it disgust me. If I saw this in Britain I would have most likely fainted or vomited from the sight but here I had to overpower any fear, survival kicked in. This is also something from Allah; Allah protects his slaves from experiencing any psychological trauma. If you are here to support the religion of Allah then know that Allah will look after you. If you look at the armies of the West like the US or the UK, you find that a large number of their soldiers who served in war zones suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) as a result of the time they served in war. They have to receive constant treatments whereas the Mujahideen never have this issue. I have never come across a Mujahid with any sort of psychological trauma caused by war or battle.
As the battle continued the regime sent their air force to work. Fortunately we had plenty of trenches to use for cover. We ended up resting in the trenches waiting for orders to aid any injured brothers. We would look at the sky every now and then and whenever there was a flash we knew that a missile was being released from a fighter jet. We would try to protect ourselves as best as we could in the trenches. Then came the helicopters, which hover over you for a while before releasing the infamous barrel bombs. The sound of the barrels spiralling down to the earth is not pleasant, nor does it end well. We were in the trench as the barrel bombs were released over us. During these 15-20 seconds you only have one thing to do and one thing to say. You put yourself in a fetal position with your hands covering your head and recite the Shahada, awaiting destiny.
After the initial assault things calmed down with some sporadic gunfire so we sat down in the trenches waiting for orders, whether to precede, retreat or stay put. We stayed in our position until just before sunrise when we changed shifts with another group and returned to the frontline base a hundred or so meters back. We were all very tired and exhausted due to the battle so most of us were asleep within minutes. Later that morning we returned to the base and the leader informed us that the battle is over, there were peace negotiations going on. We were happy in the sense that we forced the government to the negotiation table in regards to the Muslims in Zabadani but at the same time we were disappointed because we believed this a good opportunity to push on as we had broken the regime defences and they should not be given time to refortify their positions.
While the offensive on Kafraya and Foua were planned and instigated by us, the second battle I participated in was a defensive battle. There are huge differences between a defensive and an offensive battle and most if not all would prefer to be in an offensive rather than a defensive battle. In an offensive battle you are calling the shots, the ball is in your court. The preparations are practically perfect, you have an idea of the area you are attacking and most importantly you are surprising your enemy. Whereas in a defensive battle you might not be as well prepared, the enemy might surprise you with the attack, and the enemy uses the scorched earth policy where they do not advance until they blast everything in front of them. They start bombing the area heavily for hours and hours using all forms of weaponry and then, and only then do they try to precede.
At the time of the second battle we were planning for a series of battles in Hama to try and reach the besieged Muslims in the Northern Homs countryside. It was just after the Russian intervention. We were told to get ready just after sunrise as the regime had just made advancements into Bahsa, a village in the Ghab plains near the Lattakia province. We got onto the buses and proceeded towards the village. When we got to the assembly point, we could hear the government bombardment of the village and at this point I saw something that put fear in my heart, something I had not seen before. In the distance, I saw a village just north of Bahsa lightening up with balls of fire and a few seconds after the blast came the sound wave. The regime had hit the village with multiple rockets. A few minutes later the first causality of the battle had driven past us in an ambulance. It was Abu Omar Al-Halabi, a Syrian who had ran away from an ISIS held village near the town of Al-Bab, in Northern Aleppo countryside. He was a funny and simple brother that could hardly read Surat Al-Fatiha. There are many Hadiths on the virtues of a Martyr that I could use here to highlight the superiority that a Mujahid and Martyr has over those who have stayed behind.
We set off to the village that had just been hit by the rockets and from there we walked to the next village, Bahsa. At this point you are apprehensive because you do not know what you are heading into. There is no clear plan and you are not completely sure where the regime soldiers are. We walked through a dry canal for around thirty minutes. During that time there were a lot of mortar rounds flying over us. Every time I heard one I would duck down whereas the other brothers would not. I still found myself to be inexperienced and not used to the environment compared to the other brothers.
We walked until the end of the canal where we held up defensive positions in case the regime tried to advance from our position. We stayed in the canal for 24 hours where we ate, slept and answered the call of nature. When the sun rose we knew what to expect, constant mortar rounds raining on us, from sunrise to sunset. At times the mortar rounds would strike a few meters away from us and we would ask ‘how did I survive that?’. This is protection from Allah. Then came the attempted advancement of the regime but every single attempt was pushed back. The time in the canal was very difficult and uncomfortable, may Allah accept our efforts.
At first it was difficult to eat, but once you get used to death lingering over your head you manage to get in a meal. During the nights, it was cold with no blankets to cover ourselves with. After a couple of days the decision was made to retreat to the previous village where we could build a stronger line of defence. Praise be to Allah who granted us the patience and steadfastness to deal with the situation. It was difficult but we walked away with a sense of accomplishment which was struggling for the sake of Allah, and our final supplications are that all praise belongs to Allah the Lord of all that exists.
Written by Abu Salman Al-Britani.