Syrian Rebels Spring out of Tunnels on Damascus

Syrian rebels, chiefly jihadists, caught the Assad regime napping – and more seriously, Syrian and Russian intelligence – on March 19 when they stormed eastern Damascus for a surprise, two-day offensive. The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, the Fallaq al Rahman Brigade, allied jihadist groups and factions of the Free Syrian army, caught them off guard by springing out of secret tunnels in the eastern districts, the town center and the Old City gateways.
The defenders of the capital, including the security services guarding the presidential family, had been completely oblivious to the scores of tunnels being excavated under their feet. Some were built as hidden passageways for large troop contingents carrying heavy machine guns and mortars; others packed with explosives snaked under government buildings, military command centers, intelligence service headquarters and police stations ready to blow them up.
The rebel operation was devastating for the Assad regime.
At first light Sunday, rebel forces swooped on strategic points in the city, took control of the capital’s power station and communications lines, kidnapped 44 Syrian army personnel, including officers, and killed their commander, Gen. Muhammed Hasan. By midday, they were just 600 meters from the central Damascus Abbasieen Square. Universities and schools had shut down and the streets of Damascus quickly emptied but for a few cars and tanks.
Short of troops to defend his regime centers, Bashar Assad sent his air force to bomb rebel-held streets and quarters. He quickly discovered that his air strikes were ravaging the town, but not harming the rebel forces who took cover in the tunnels. He then called on the Russian air force for urgent assistance. The Russian air force responded with 80 sorties in one day.
Early Monday, the cavalry arrived in the form of the 42nd Brigade of the Syrian Army’s 4th Medhanized Division and the 105th Brigade of the elite Republican Guard.
The rebels began to withdraw through the tunnels to the eastern quarters of the city. Their casualties were fairly light, and they took with them 100 abducted Syrian officers and men for use as bargaining chips against the Assad regime. Their tunnel strategy was so effective that it will almost certainly serve as an innovative device for copycats in other Middle East conflicts.

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