Houstonian Documents Syrian Fighting For Western News Agencies

Western journalists have had difficulty gaining permission to cover the Syrian conflict; so much of the news has been coming from citizens using social media. But some freelance reporters and photographers have been able to slip in. Ed Mayberry talked with one Houstonian on a phone hook-up from Syria.

Austin Tice grew up in Houston and went to school at the University of Houston. He served as a captain in the Marine Corps, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Tice is now in Syria, providing “on the ground” photos and reporting for newspapers, CNN, the BBC and NPR.

“I came into Syria over the Turkish border from southern Turkey. That border is fairly porous, and is becoming more so all the time.” 

Tice grew his hair and found it fairly easy to assimilate into communities of rebels fighting the Assad regime.

“So, the first conversation you always have is, you know, ‘do you work for the CIA?’ Even after I’ve hung out with people for a few days, they tend to still just kind of assume that I work for the CIA. They wish that I worked for the CIA, right? Because everyone here wishes that America was more involved. Once you know one person, you know, they have very strong sort of family ties and community ties.”

And Tice says those freedom fighters have his back as he captures scenes of the fighting for the western world to see.

“And, you know, you’re just talking street fighting, you know, molotov cocktails — any weapon you can basically imagine in an urban street fighting environment. It was pretty exciting! But I was able to get some pretty good shots that way, and tell a pretty good story afterwards, that I think otherwise, you know, never would have gotten told.” 

Austin Tice’s mother Debra worried about her son in his military capacity, and now she worries about his current pursuit.  

“And that is something that I have not gotten used to. It’s just that I’ve adjusted to it.”

Communications from a war zone have advanced dramatically from previous wars. She gets to talk with Austin by email or telephone.

“I can really hear behind the words and I know that he is veiling things. He did give me a satellite phone number and so I decided to try it. And he was sheltering in a stairwell during the shelling in Al Tal, and so ‘I’ve gotta go, mom, we’re running now.'”

As Austin Tice documents the fighting from the front line, he’s sensitive to what he releases to news agencies.

“There’s a very real security concern. You know, people are concerned about their faces showing up in photographs because the Syrian government is notorious for exerting pressure on people by going after their families in really quite violent and atrocious ways. I’ve seen quite a number of funerals and dead family members. People tend to be very open about those things. I think in a lot of ways maybe it’s a form of therapy for them, that maybe their grief is, you know, going to lead towards a greater solution here.”

Tice plans to take a break from covering the fighting soon, and is considering his next move — after all, he’s got thousands of images and journals documenting this tumultuous time in Syria’s history.


View photos on Flickr

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