Al Nusrah Front, Western-backed rebels overrun key regime base south of Damascus

In the past two days, Syrian rebels overran a base belonging to Brigade 82 of the Syrian Army in the southern province of Deraa. The Brigade 82 facilities, which sit close to the town of Sheikh Maskeen and a highway connecting Damascus with Jordan, were considered a key part of the Assad regime’s defenses. The Assad government has responded to the rebel takeover by pounding the insurgents’ positions inside the base and Sheikh Maskeen with its military jets and helicopters.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.59.40 PM.png

The base reportedly housed surface-to-air missiles and other heavy weaponry, at least some of which appears to have fallen into the rebels’ hands. Unverified photos posted on Twitter show rebels in possession of various missiles and launchers. For example, Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al Muhaysini, a popular al Qaeda-linked Saudi cleric in Syria, has praised the rebels’ takeover and posted photos of missiles that have purportedly fallen into their possession. The photos, which have been tweeted and retweeted by a number of people, can be seen to the right.

A number of insurgency groups have posted videos and photos online showing their fighters taking part in the assault on the base.

The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, and the Islamic Front, an alliance of Islamist groups, are among them. Ahrar al Sham, an al Qaeda-linked organization, leads the Islamic Front.

Screen shots and photos from the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic Front are included at the bottom of this article.

Western-backed rebels, including fighters from the First Army, also participated in the raid on the Brigade 82 base. The First Army issued a statement before the operation was launched saying its men were going to take part in the rebels’ new southern offensive. The First Army also released a statement afterwards saying that the base had fallen.

A leader of the First Army identified as Colonel Saber Safar spoke with Reuters about the significance of the base falling into rebel hands. “This advance will help us cut supply routes of the regime forces in the south from their supplies in the north to be able to eventually take over Deraa city,” Safar told Reuters, which described the First Army as “a major faction of Western-backed rebels in the ‘Southern Front’ grouping.”

In early January, Asharq Al Awsat reported that the First Army was formed by three rebel groups, each of which had operated as part of the Free Syrian Army. Asharq Al Awsat described the three groups that make up the First Army as “moderate rebel factions,” which said they wanted to “unify all FSA factions under a joint military command.” The publication cited a commander in the group as saying that they would not only fight Bashar al Assad’s regime and its proxies, but also work to contain the growing influence of extremists, meaning the Al Nusrah Front.

The battle for Brigade 82’s base, however, shows that the First Army and other “moderate” rebels continue to cooperate with al Qaeda and its extremists allies in southern Syria.

Several pictures and screen shots of other rebels taking part in the raid are published below.

Al Nusrah Front photos and videos from the capture of Brigade 82 base

In a tweet on one of its official feeds, Al Nusrah announced that the base had fallen under the rebels’ complete control on Sunday. The photo below accompanied the tweet:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.13.53 AM.png

This screen shot from one of the Al Nusrah Front’s videos shows a fighter participating in the battle:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.10.57 AM.png

In one of its videos, the Al Nusrah Front shows fighters pulling down a statue that appears to be a bust of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.03.34 AM.png

Al Nusrah showcases some of the weapons and ammunition it took possession of inside Brigade 82’s base:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.05.59 AM.png

More “booty” recovered at the base by Al Nusrah:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.07.30 AM.png

The Islamic Front’s and Ahrar al Sham’s propaganda videos

One video posted on the Islamic Front’s official Twitter feed shows fighters launching mortar rounds at Brigade 82:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 12.48.57 PM.png

Smoke in the distance indicates where the mortar round struck:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 12.52.31 PM.png

In a separate video, an Islamic Front fighter celebrates after launching a shoulder-fired missile:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.11.15 PM.png

An Islamic Front fighter rallies his fighters from inside Brigade 82’s base:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.13.04 PM.png

Videos showing the First Army and other rebel groups participating in the attack

Shaam News Network has posted several videos of fighters walking through the captured base. One video shows fighters walking by the same arms cache that the Al Nusrah Front featured in its own production:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 12.05.14 PM.png

A short video posted online purportedly shows fighters from the First Army firing on the base:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.21.19 AM.png

A video that is just over one minute long shows fighters affiliated with the Free Syrian Army at the Brigade 82 base:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 11.45.12 AM.png

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.

Tags: , , , , ,

4 Comments

  • Mike Clark says:

    So al qaeda has another base and more surface to air missiles. Western backed al qaeda is the real story hear.

  • mike merlo says:

    Interesting, kinda reminds me of when Communist China & the USA collaborated to assist the Khmer Rouge. Am now awaiting the Fumblelina’s in the Intelligence Community to begin providing Mel Blanc ‘voice overs’ on ‘posted’ video’s of those that oppose us & those that the USA is in league with

  • Evan says:

    Some things have sure changed in Syria….
    And some things have sure stayed the same.
    Here’s my question…
    If it was us, meaning, if I were apart of the very small actual moderate forces on the ground that believe in liberty, that support the democratic process, that don’t support AQ, what would I do?
    Is it really realistic to think that in the same position, that we would NOT do the same? Really?
    If we were in the same position, we’d be working with the same people. And it doesn’t matter.
    What difference does it make?
    There’s already been a reckoning of sorts for the moderate rebels in Syria. That’s why they only exist in the south of the country. There is no more moderate rebels anywhere else, because the jihadists beat them to the punch. These guys can only work together for so long, and they know it. If they cooperate to destroy Assad, that’s fine. It’s what everyone wants anyway, the real fight and the real challenge for Syria is coming after Assad. Look at Libya, look at any emerging country throughout time. Its going to be a bloodbath for years to come. The dumb ones will get killed off first, if they haven’t already, and then the real die hard fighters will dig in and get ready.
    It really doesn’t matter wether they work with the bad guys right now, and it won’t make any difference later, as long as the moderate opposition doesn’t get beat to the punch again in the south….

  • James says:

    Its interesting to see that the media, including this website make the analysis that Al-Nusrah Front are leading the way in many of these operations. Al-Nusrah’s media campaign is excellent at twisting our views and assessments into believing that they are the driver behind these operational wins. Al-Nusrah’s southern fighters hardly fit the bill of Al-Qaeda, they are paid, trained and probably mildly indoctrinated. But importantly locally recruited and have been won over, albeit to fight Assad. Would it not be reasonable to say that assuming this conflict ends, 80% of these fighters will down arms and go home?
    On face value, SA-6 in the possession of AQ affiliates is bad. However, do they have the expertise to maintain, fuel, fire or even operate? Are the missiles even in date and filled with reliable rocket fuel? The largest concern is who they sell them to. However, while the largest threat to the opposition remains the Syrian Air Force, it would be obvious to me, for them to fire a couple at some helicopters and ground the air force. Common sense says civilian airliners do not pose a threat to the Syrian Opposition or Al-Nusra.
    Operationally, capturing Base 82 is a success. But it doesn’t enable them to cut the supply lines to Dera’a. I would presume most of Assads forces withdrew in the face of overwhelming odds and opted for retaliatory air strikes and artillery (seeing as there is limited media of dead bodies), moving forces into Sheikh Miskin and Izra and firming up their south east supply route.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis