Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in the Levant, claims to have overrun the Abu Duhour airbase in the Idlib province of Syria.
In a post on one of its official Twitter feeds, Al Nusrah said the airbase was “fully liberated” after more than 100 of Bashar al Assad’s fighters were killed and an additional 60 captured. The tweet from the jihadist group can be seen on the right. Other accounts on social media differ with respect to the number of regime fighters killed or captured. It is also unclear how many casualties Al Nusrah suffered in the battle.
SANA, the Syrian regime’s propaganda arm, has all but conceded that Assad’s forces lost the battle. SANA reports that the “guarding members evacuated their positions” at the airbase “after fierce battles with terrorist organizations where the guarding members showed great bravery and inflicted heavy losses upon the terrorists for more than two years.”
The regime’s “news” arm blames “the dusty air,” which clouded the vision of Assad’s fighters, for their retreat. (Left unsaid is why the jihadists’ ground forces weren’t similarly disadvantaged.) Separate photos posted online purportedly show Assad’s men retreating into a sandstorm. SANA also alleges that the “Takfiri [extremist] terrorists” who overran the facility are “affiliated” with the “Erdogan [Turkey] and Saudi regimes.”
Al Nusrah has released a short video and a series of pictures showing intense fighting in and around the base. Other unofficial videos and images streaming out of the airbase show a number of MIG fighter jets, helicopters and other arms in the jihadists’ possession. In one such video, fighters purportedly belonging to Al Nusrah are seen on top of a MIG. A screen shot from the video can be seen on the right. It is not known if any of the aircraft are operational.
Jihadists and other rebels have repeatedly assaulted the Abu Duhour airbase. Just last month, the Syrian regime claimed to have repelled an invasion jointly conducted by Al Nusrah and Jund al Aqsa, which is an al Qaeda front group. It is likely that Jund al Aqsa, which fights side-by-side with Al Nusrah in northern Syria, participated in the latest raid as well. Another al Qaeda-linked group, the Turkistan Islamic Party, has also taken part in the operation.