Banner for the Al Nusrah Front, a jihadist group in Syria. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, launched two assaults on Syrian bases in Aleppo today. Al Nusrah is leading the assault against a strategic base in Wadi Deif, and is participating in another attack on the main airport in Aleppo with other “rebels.” AFP reports:
Syrian rebels attacked a key army base in the northwest province of Idlib on Friday, the last regime bastion in the region, and regime warplanes launched air raids in Damascus province, a watchdog said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said several rebel groups pounded Wadi Deif amid violent clashes on the ground while regime warplanes launched air strikes around the army base. Two rebel fighters were killed, the Britain-based Observatory said.
Rebels on the ground said the jihadist group the Al Nusrah Front was leading the offensive.
Syria’s rebels have long aimed to take the base “no matter what losses they incur because of its strategic importance,” the Observatory said in a statement.
It added that regime troops were deployed to protect the base, whose loss would cut the main supply route for reinforcements from Damascus to Syria’s second city in the north, Aleppo.
Insurgents took a key base in October in the town of Maaret al-Numan, close to Wadi Deif, and right on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. Army reprisals to retake the town failed.
Elsewhere, Al Nusrah and rebel fighters attacked regime troops guarding Aleppo airport, the Observatory reported, as clashes shook several neighbourhoods in the city, including around a military compound besieged by rebels.
The Al Nusrah Front, which was virtually nonexistent one year ago (the group didn’t announce its formation until January 2012) is now one of the premier fighting forces in Syria. The group is capable of sustaining multiple offensives across Syria against the forces of the Assad regime, and has overrun several military bases (Al Nusrah and allied jihadist groups laid siege to the Sheikh Suleiman base, or Base 111, in western Aleppo for more than two months before overrunning it). In addition, the group has skillfully employed suicide bombers and assault teams in the heart of Syria’s major cities. Al Nusrah has claimed credit for 43 suicide attacks so far this year. And, as the reaction to the US terrorism designation has shown, Al Nusrah is quite popular among the Syrian opposition.
Those still arguing that al Qaeda is dead, as Peter Bergen and Thomas Lynch did in a debate against Thomas Joscelyn and me in October, should look no further than the Al Nusrah Front in Syria in order to reevaluate their assessment.