Inside view of militias fighting for the Syrian regime - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

Inside view of militias fighting for the Syrian regime

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(CBS News) DAMASCUS - President Obama is opening a new front in his battle to get Congress to authorize military action against Syria: He is taking his case directly to the American people. The president said on Friday that he will address the nation from the White House on Tuesday. He made that announcement at a news conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, at the end of the G-20 economic summit. The strike against Syria would be punishment for a nerve gas attack two weeks ago that the administration said left 1,400 Syrian civilians dead.

Meanwhile, as Syria braces for a U.S. attack, CBS News spent time with Syrian militias that support the dictatorship, fighting rebels who rose up more than two years ago.

Here's how the Syrian government doubled the size of its fighting force in less than a year: it issued guns and bullets to civilians.

The main job qualification: unwavering support for President Bashar al Assad.

Here on the front line were members of the National Defense Force defending their neighborhood and trading fire with opposition fighters who were only 20 yards away down the street.

A sniper's bullet clipped a mosque. The fighters thought they'd spotted him and opened up.

Later when things were calm, four of them agreed to talk. Two years ago, they worked as a cook, a shopkeeper, a construction worker and a car wash attendant who didn't want us to show his face. But when the war ruined their businesses, they traded unemployment for crisp uniforms and a job the front line.

The area of Tadamon was shattered last year when the opposition fighters battled their way in. Six months later, the Defense Force pushed them back out with Syrian military backup -- something they still rely on. In a battle last week, they asked for the army's big guns again.

The Syrian army has assigned Tadamon's Defense Force their very own liaison officer. He didn't want his face shown on camera, but he did lead us into his bullet-scarred command post.

Asked if the militias were an extension of the military, the liaison officer said: "They were created to assist troops, and they know their area so well, they actually lead the army."

In that role, the Defense Force members brim with patriotism and confidence, and they were keen to say they don't believe America will attack.

"It would be the start of World War III," one of the Defense Force fighters reasoned, "and we think U.S. must now be thinking hard about that."

The use of militias fighting for the regime is one of the ways Assad has hung on since the uprising. He has a core body of supporters in Damascus. The fighters we interviewed were offered $100 a month if they want to take the salary. A lot of them don't. They're just volunteers. And they are completely supported by the community and fed and looked after by the people they believe they're protecting.

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