Loyalty overshadows grieving in Assad's hometown

QARDAHA, Syria -- In the rolling hills above Lake Safarqieyh, Qardaha salutes its native sons: President Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez, the previous strongman and President. He's now buried above the town in an elaborate tomb.

"We glorify him because he built modern Syria," said Maysam Ahmed.

Qardaha's loyalty to the Assads is based in their shared Allawite religion. Hundreds of young men from the area volunteered to fight in Syria's grinding civil war.

Four years in, a wall shows the faces of those who won't come back.

Images of men who have left Qardaha to fight ISIS are posted on a wall CBS News

Syrian state television occasionally broadcasts emotional coverage of soldiers' funerals. The coverage also shows the first lady Asma al-Assad meeting publicly with dead men's mothers.

But the government won't say how many have fallen, so we asked the people of Qardaha how many martyrs they have in their families.

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"Many, many," answered a woman.

Next to her was a neighbor grieving silently for four of her brothers. Everyone here has lost someone in the fight against ISIS and other extremists. You might think they'd back the U.S. airstrikes on ISIS headquarters in Raqqa -- but you'd be wrong.

Mohammad Mahmoud works inside a coffee shop in Qardaha CBS News

"How do you see the heavy American bombardment of ISIS in Raqqa?" I asked Mohammad Mahmoud.

"It's not real," he said. "The U.S. finances ISIS and gives them weapons."

In Qardaha, it's safer to buy into conspiracies than to admit that their local hero might have led them into a costly war it's not clear they can win.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."