In a major breakthrough, Syrian army frees Aleppo air base from ISIL control
Kweyris // Syria’s army broke ISIL’s siege on a military air base in northern Aleppo province on Tuesday, scoring its first major breakthrough since Russia’s air campaign began.
Troops, backed by pro-government militia, broke through the extremist group’s more than year-long siege of the Kweyris military airport in the country’s north.
A group of soldiers penetrated ISIL lines west of the airport and reached government troops inside the base, firing into the air in celebration.
Experts said the base could be used by Russian planes in their air war against rebels fighting the regime of president Bashar al-Assad, aiding their efforts to retake Syria’s second city of Aleppo.
Russia launched air strikes in Syria in support of Mr Al Assad at the end of September, but the regime has still struggled to advance against opposition forces and securing Kweyris would mark their first major victory in the Aleppo area.
But the advance came as at least 22 people were killed in one of the bloodiest mortar attacks on the regime’s coastal bastion of Latakia in the four-year conflict.
Syria’s state television reported the Kweyris breakthrough against ISIL, broadcasting live from outside the airport and saying a “large number of ISIL terrorists” were killed, but did not provide details.
Loyalists and ISIL extremists remained locked in fierce clashes to the airport’s north, east, and west on Tuesday evening, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
ISIL surrounded Kweyris in spring 2014, tightening a siege that rebel groups began in April 2013.
The counteroffensive began at the end of September, with support from Russian warplanes, Iranian troops, fighters from Lebanese Shiite militia Hizbollah and the pro-government national defence forces militia, Mr Abdel Rahman said.
If secured, it could be used by Russian planes currently flying out of Hmeimim in Latakia province, he said, adding: “In particular, it will help their efforts to retake all of Aleppo city.”
Russia’s air force has been conducting strikes across Syria since September 30 against what it calls “terrorist targets” in a move that sparked tensions with the Western powers.
Moscow says its air strikes primarily target ISIL militants, though the United States and its coalition partners say Russia is mainly attacking more moderate groups fighting Assad.
On Tuesday, US air force general Herbert Carlisle said communications with Russia have vastly improved since the start of Moscow’s bombing campaign, with twice-daily talks and a hotline set up.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: November 11, 2015 04:00 AM