(CBS News) LONDON - Virtually all of the independent reporting from inside Syria in recent months has come from journalists who sneak into the country and travel with the rebel fighters battling to oust President Bashar Assad. Now, for the first time, a veteran British war reporter has provided the other side of the story.
Robert Fisk, who writes for The Independent, was given permission to work alongside the top Syrian Army commander on one of the most active front lines of the civil war at present; the battle for control of Syria's largest city, Aleppo.
The picture Fisk paints from his time with the general, who is not identified by name, provides more evidence - if largely anecdotal - for the Assad regime's long-running claim that foreign Islamist fighters are playing a significant role in the Syria's civil war.
Also challenged by Fisk's report: the notion presented by Syria's opposition that they are fighting to liberate Aleppo on behalf of eager residents.
While the quotes from the Syrian general himself are largely predictable - towing the line from Assad's regime that the government's enemies are "terrorists" with support and supplies from abroad, seeking to topple the country's rightful leadership, the more revealing information comes from Fisk quoting locals in Aleppo.
"At least a dozen civilians emerged from their homes, retirees in their 70s, shopkeepers and local businessmen with their families and, unaware that a foreign journalist was watching, put their arms round Syrian troops," writes Fisk. "One told me he had stayed in his home as 'foreign' fighters used his courtyard to fire on government soldiers. 'I speak Turkish and most were speaking Turkish but some of the men had long beards and short trousers like the Saudis wear, and had strange Arab accents.'"
It is true that support for Assad varies neighborhood to neighborhood, and that the residents were speaking to Fisk as Syrian government troops stood nearby, and that may have played into their accounts, but if they were afraid of the troops, they needn't have come out of their homes.
Assad is a despot, and he's used tactics in this 18 month crisis that have exposed innocent civilians to the full might of his military. But he is not loathed by all Syrians, and he still has the unwavering support of many of his commanders - and constituents.