The soldier was grinning, his wounds bandaged but blood still on his hands. He had the weary, cynical, joyful eyes of a man who had survived. Gunfire cracked around the little concrete hut in which he talked, outgoing mortars and a tank that blazed away into Jobar every few minutes from an outcrop of the Qassioun mountain.
“They came in their hundreds,” he said. “They came in suicide cars and when we tried to rocket them, they came out of tunnels under the ground.” There were, said his comrades, maybe four thousand in all. Jabhat al-Nusra, of course, one of the brand names of al-Qaeda that now dominate the rebel forces in the area. And then another soldier said something strange. “They talked in classical Arabic.”