One day after the largest dam in Syria fell to jihadists spearheaded by al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Islamist fighters seized control of a nearby airbase. Jihadists have now taken control of four major military installations in Syria since October 2012.
“Rebel fighters from several islamist factions have fully taken over the al-Jarrah military airport,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely tracks the Syrian civil war. Five “rebels” were killed, and more than 40 “regime forces” were wounded or captured during the fighting.
A video of Islamist fighters battling at the al-Jarrah airbase was released on YouTube. Several aircraft are seen in hangars, and others, which appear to be unserviceable, are parked on the sides of the runway. Cases of ammunition are seen stacked next to what appears to be an operational MiG fighter that is inside a hangar.
A fighter from the Islamist faction known as the Ahrar al Sham Brigades, a jihadist group in Syria, is heard saying that the aircraft “are now in the hands” of the group.
The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, also participated in the assault on the al-Jarrah airbase, a US intelligence official who is monitoring al Qaeda’s operations in Syria told The Long War Journal. Yesterday, the Al Nusrah Front led other Islamist groups in taking over the dam in nearby Thawra.
The Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham have conducted several joint operations against President Assad’s regime. In mid-January, the two groups teamed up with the Islamic Vanguard to seize control of Taftanaz, a key Syrian air force base in Idlib province. After the assault, videos of the jihadists touring the base and inspecting seized tanks, armored vehicles, and helicopters were posted on YouTube, LiveLeak, and other video sharing websites [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah, jihadist allies overrun Syrian airbase].
In addition to the al-Jarrah airbase and Taftanaz, two other major military installations have now been overrun by the Al Nusrah Front since the beginning of October 2012. On Dec. 10, the Al Nusrah Front and allied jihadists took control of 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].
Over the past several months, the Al Nusrah Front and its allies have effectively seized control of the Euphrates River Valley and have secured lines of communication with Al Nusrah’s parent group, al Qaeda in Iraq [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah front spearheads capture of Syrian dam, claims suicide assault].