Monday, August 25, 2014
IS captures airbase in Raqqa, the last remaining government outpost in this province
IS uses loudhailers to announce to the population Raqqa the capture of the airbase. (Photo Reuters)
ISIS fighters captured Sunday a major military air base in Syria’s northeast, eliminating the last regime-held outpost in a province otherwise dominated by the jihadist group. Tabqa airfield – home to several warplane squadrons, helicopters, tanks, artillery and ammunition bunkers – is the third military base in the area to fall to the militants since last month.
The jihadists launched their long-anticipated offensive last week to seize the sprawling Tabqa facility, located some 45 kms from the extremists’ stronghold in the city of Raqqa along the Euphrates River. After several failed efforts to breach the walls in recent days, fighters managed to punch through and storm the air base Sunday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group. Government warplanes carried out waves of airstrikes to try to beat back the attack, but those ultimately proved unable to stem the assault. “Some of the Syrian regime troops pulled out, and now [ISIS] is in full control of Tabqa,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said. “This makes Raqqa province the first to fully fall out of government hands.”
State news agency SANA confirmed that the government had lost the air base, saying troops “are successfully regrouping after evacuating the airport.” It said that the military was still “striking terrorist groups, inflicting heavy losses on them.”
The government had made significant investments in both weapons and manpower to try to hold onto Tabqa, making its fall both a symbolic and a strategic blow.