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Al Nusrah, jihadist allies overrun Syrian airbase


Jihadists tour Taftanaz aair base in Idlib, Syria after overrunning it earlier today.


The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group that is fighting Bashir al Assad's regime in Syria, and allied jihadist groups overran a key Syrian air force base in Idlib province after fighting a pitched battle with government forces.

A jihadist alliance made up of the Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, and the Islamic Vanguard stormed the key air base in Taftanaz earlier today. At least seven jihadist fighters and one of their commanders were killed during the assault of Taftanaz, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on its Facebook page. An unknown number of Syrian soldiers were also killed during the fighting.

"The fighting at Taftanaz military airport ended at 11:00 am and the base is entirely in rebel hands," Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told The Voice of Russia.

Although the Syrian government claimed to have repelled the assault, videos of the jihadists touring the base and inspecting seized tanks, armored vehicles, and helicopters have been posted on YouTube, LiveLeak, and other video sharing websites. Crates of weapons are seen in the background. Additionally, jihadists posted videos of Syrian soldiers who had been either killed during the fighting or executed; their bodies were thrown into a ditch.

Taftanaz, which is located between the cities of Idlib and Aleppo, was used by government forces to launch airstrikes on anti-regime forces. More than 60 helicopters operated from Taftanaz, and were used to attack nearby towns and cities as well as rebel forces.

Al Nusrah leads assaults on major Syrian bases

Taftanaz is the third major military base to have been overrun by the Al Nusrah Front. On Dec. 10, the Al Nusrah Front and allied jihadists took control the Sheikh Suleiman base, or Base 111. Arab and Chechen fighters participated in the assault on Sheikh Suleiman, which is said to be a key research facility linked to the regime's chemical weapons program [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front, foreign jihadists seize key Syrian base in Aleppo].

And on Oct. 11, Al Nusrah, the supposedly secular Free Syrian Army, and Chechen fighters overran a Syrian air defense and Scud missile base in Aleppo [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front commanded Free Syrian Army unit, 'Chechen emigrants,' in assault on Syrian air defense base].

Al Nusrah is also leading a siege against a strategic base in Wadi Deif, which is also in the province of Idlib, and attempting to seize control of the main airport in Aleppo [see Threat Matrix report, Al Nusrah Front on the offensive in Aleppo].

The terror group has become one of the most powerful and effective units in the Syrian insurgency, and it has begun to absorb elements of the Free Syrian Army. The Al Nusrah Front also conducts joint operations with the Free Syrian Army and other supposedly secular groups, and has numerous foreign fighters in its ranks.

An al Qaeda affiliate

The Al Nusrah Front was designated by the US as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on Dec. 11. The US government said that al Qaeda in Iraq's emir, Abu Du'a, or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Husseini al Qurshi, "is in control of both AQI and Al Nusrah."

Additionally, two senior Al Nusrah leaders, Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al Juburi and Anas Hasan Khattab, both members of al Qaeda in Iraq, were added to the US's the list of global terrorists. The emir of Al Nusrah, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Julani, was not added to the list of global terrorists, however. [See LWJ report, US adds Al Nusrah Front, 2 leaders to terrorism list, for information on the designation of the AL Nusrah Front and the two leaders.]

Despite Al Nusrah's known affiliation with al Qaeda and its radical ideology, Syrian opposition groups, including the supposedly secular Syrian National Coalition, have rallied to support Al Nusrah. Immediately after the US designated Al Nusrah as a terrorist group, 29 Syrian opposition groups signed a petition that not only condemned the US's designation, but said "we are all Al Nusrah," and urged their supporters to raise Al Nusrah's flag (which of course is al Qaeda's flag) [see LWJ report, Syrian National Coalition urges US to drop Al Nusrah terrorism designation].



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READER COMMENTS: "Al Nusrah, jihadist allies overrun Syrian airbase"

Posted by mike merlo at January 11, 2013 8:24 PM ET:

Oh well. Its beginning to look like "its all over but the cryin." I wonder what the status is of Syrian Forces in the Golan Heights region?

Posted by irebukeu at January 11, 2013 9:32 PM ET:

At this point shouldn't we consider giving targeting data to al Assad or Ammo for the weapons he has left?

I'm just saying.....

Posted by Knighthawk at January 12, 2013 1:50 AM ET:

@irebukeu - Sounds like a job for the Russians. ;)

Posted by gb at January 12, 2013 8:18 AM ET:

Once the rebels have fully taken control of the country militarily and ousted the current regime, this country is going to be in an all out civil war. It may be decades before things settle down , if ever.

Posted by AMac at January 12, 2013 10:28 AM ET:

Not a small facility. The airbase, its ~50 helipads, and its hangars and other buildings can be seen via satellite view (Google Maps, etc.) at +35° 58', +36° 47'.

Posted by Paul T at January 12, 2013 11:33 AM ET:

Didn't we learn anything from Libya about aiding these Al-Queda type savages?

Posted by sundoesntirse at January 12, 2013 3:04 PM ET:

Didn't we learn anything from Afghanistan about aiding these Islamist type savages?

Nope.

Posted by m3fd2002 at January 12, 2013 3:38 PM ET:

Red on Red. It's in our interest to let them slug it out. I believe that the US campaign in Iraq did not go unnoticed by the Jihadis. AlQaeda never thought that we would engage in such an overt manner. They are well aware that if they attacked the US homeland, they would face another round of punishment. The only mistake we make was trying to rebuild what we destroyed. We should have left after the first few months, leaving only rubble. However, the current US administration is without a doubt viewed as indecisive in their arena. They will take full advantage by hitting at the monarchs throughout the region. The Middle East in general is not that vital to the US anymore. We can produce sufficient hydrocarbons on the mainland, and import from Canada and Latin America. Let the Arabs take care of their own. Good luck.

Posted by sundoesntrise at January 12, 2013 7:59 PM ET:

m3fd2002,

"We can produce sufficient hydrocarbons on the mainland, and import from Canada and Latin America. Let the Arabs take care of their own. Good luck."

I believe that statement epitomizes the situation of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East since the 60's. Contrary to what some analysts and mainstream commentators would have you believe - American corporations, special interests and lobby groups make darn well sure that their interests are served first before protecting 'the homeland' in the 'War on Terror'.

Now that alternative sources of energy exploration are opening up at a much faster rate, we now notice that the U.S. is beginning to take a laid back, almost back seat approach to things. They are even discussing not having a single soldier left in Afghanistan. They left Iraq (with the exception of contractors guarding embassies), and Libya was so easy to bomb and install a puppet government considering NATO's superior firepower and air superiority.

The way it's looking now is that the special interests, lobby groups and corporations been served their big slice of the pie - and at the same time, they - meaning the war machine - HAVE succeeded in stopping a major terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Spec-ops raids and drone attacks in Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, and so forth play into this bigger picture of 'anti-terror operations'.

It may not have been a walk in the park but good ol' America has once again gotten what it has wanted out of a region after wanton destruction and starting wars with quite a few people across the Muslim world.

Now, of course, I understand that the 'other side' are not the greatest people on Earth but I do not think at this point that opinions of the U.S. - i.e. 'hearts and minds' have changed in a positive way in the region. But, at the end of the day, as always throughout history, whoever has the most powerful guns and the fastest warplanes wins (if they use their firepower in an accurate way, which the United States definitely has). So be it.

I also noticed I spelled my username wrong in my last post, that was my mistake.

Posted by Neo at January 13, 2013 3:47 AM ET:

What to make of all of this? It’s obvious that Al Nusrah is now the point of the spear. This may be as much because they are capable, as any other reason they would lead. The old network that was in place to support the insurgency in Northern Iraq is in play, with their Saudi’s and Qatari’s backers in line. Than you have the bulk of the resistance, a marginally effective (or ineffective) hodge-podge of Syrian Army defectors and locals who have joined the cause. One can’t help but notice that all of this mess is happening within about 30 miles of the Turkish border. The resistance started out using the Turkish border for cover, but now it looks more like the Turkish border is the defacto base from which to launch operations.

So what is Turkey’s angle on all of this? From a strictly pragmatic and short term perspective this does make sense. The Turks first found that the Assad regime wasn’t going to quickly crumble from within. Over the first year they also found out the Free Syrian Army might just fizzle if it had to stand toe-to-toe with the Syrian army for any extended length of time. Even a totally demoralized Syrian Army might regain the upper hand, if faced with resistance that is total disorganized and incompetent. So does pragmatism dictate that the Turks make a deal with the devil, and use an effective Salafi insurgency to bring about a quick collapse of Assad’s government? In the short term, it might just work. Sufi Turks & Syrians might be forewarned though, that the path of least resistance quit often leads straight to hell. What do they do when they win, thank Al Nusrah and ask them to leave? This is a bit like watching a sequel to the ‘Airport’ movie series. Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen….

Posted by Eric at January 13, 2013 5:22 AM ET:

Taftanaz is a milestone in the rebellion. Assad's regime is now doomed. The fall of the regime will not come swiftly, but they lost a significant ability to interdict rebel movement and concentration of forces and resources with the loss of this airbase. In the next couple of months, the rebels will accomplish choke-holds on oil and commercial commerce throughout central Syria. And that will do it. Systematic strangulation measured in weeks.

People seem focused on the coming bloodletting between rival factions, any many comments emphasize the chaotic state of affairs Syria will descend into post-regime, with the SNC largely unsuccessful at imposing order and erecting a transitional government for some time to come. All of that will surely take place, and is the very reason why the Salafist factions will hold such broad appeal in Syria, with their community-based order and justice seeming better and less corrupt than the nationally-based institutions.

There will be no going back to the Alawites - ever. The Russians, the Iranians, and the Iraqis have wound up on the losing end, as will Hezbollah in about one years time.

This is the right moment for the PKK to reconcile with the Turkish government, and accept a limited autonomy in Turkish Kurdistan. If they miss out on the narrow window of opportunity, the PKK will also be wiped out militarily within a few years.

The US and the EU have an opportunity to enrich Turkey as the patron nation of Syrian reconstruction. That is clearly the correct strategy with the fewest implications for the West, but I already measure a great reluctance to follow that path, and it only increases my suspicions that we in the West have chosen the correct leadership to marshal our decline.

It is tempting to view Syria as a country with no real strategic imperative for the West, where the various factions can pretty much go at each other until there is nobody left, but that is very far from the truth, and will prove disastrous for the Middle East if such is the case. Like it or not, the West must act to check the Salafist extremists. And a sober examination of how this is to be undertaken in yet another hopeless country shows how vital our NATO ally Turkey is to our expectations for success with containing the Al Qaeda contagion in the near-east.

Posted by Hibeam at January 13, 2013 10:52 AM ET:

The root cause of this turmoil is exposure to Western ideas via cell phones and the Internet. Look for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to soon follow. Iran is not immune. Nor China.