- Obama mulls support for Islamists in Syria, with conditions
- Obama ‘birther’ theories float, as Hawaii health director killed in crash
- U.S. drone faulted for killing 14 ‘innocent civilians’ at Yemen wedding
- GOP hopes taking shutdown off the table with budget deal will pay dividends
- Chinese Death Star: The moon cited as the perfect launch pad for ballistic missiles
- Help wanted: Homeland Security plagued by vacancies at the top
- We are not amused: Queen’s protection officers warned to keep ‘sticky fingers’ off the royal cashews
- Unleash the crossbows: Gov. Scott Walker creates new hunting season
- Bubonic plague kills 20 in Madagascar
- G-20 diplomats fell for hacker attack promising nude photos of former French first lady Carla Bruni
Syrian rebels seize key air base, activists say
BEIRUT — Islamic militants seeking to topple President Bashar Assad took full control of a strategic northwestern air base Friday in a significant blow to government forces, seizing helicopters, tanks and multiple rocket launchers, activists said.
The Taftanaz air base in the northern Idlib province is considered the biggest field in the country’s north for helicopters used to bomb rebel-held areas and deliver supplies to government troops.
Rebels from al Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamic groups have been fighting for weeks for control of the sprawling facility and broke into it on Wednesday evening. Activists said the rebels seized control of buildings, ammunition and military equipment after ferocious fighting at dawn.
“As of now, the rebels are in full control of the air base,” said Idlib-based activist Mohammad Kanaan.
The rebels had been attacking Taftanaz for months, launching a fresh offensive on it in early November. While its fall will embarrass the regime and dent helicopter operations, it will do little to stop airstrikes by government jets, many of which come from bases farther south.
It is also unclear if the rebels will be able to retain control of the facility. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said government warplanes bombed the air base after the rebel takeover Friday.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Observatory, said it is the first major military airport to fall into rebel hands.
The rebel assault was part of a wider campaign to chip away at the Syrian government’s air supremacy, which it has relied upon increasingly over the past year as it lost control of large swaths of territory. Airstrikes by warplanes and helicopters have proved the main obstacle to opposition fighters.
Amateur videos posted online by activists showed rebels celebrating inside the air base, some kneeling and kissing the ground and others showing off booty including multiple rocket launchers.
Kanaan, the activist in Idlib, said the rebels seized tanks and helicopters at the base, but added that most if not all of the helicopters were damaged from the fighting and were nonfunctional.
“The regime bombed them to keep the rebels from using them,” he said. The Observatory said around 20 helicopters were captured but that none were in working order.
While acknowledging that the capture of the base itself would not stop government airstrikes, Kanaan said the achievement, and seizure of ammunition, put “another big nail in the coffin of the regime.”
Taftanaz lies near the highway between the capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, a major front in the civil war that has stood at a stalemate for months.
Activists estimate that around 700 rebels are involved in the offensive on Taftanaz, almost all of them Islamic militants. They include members of Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated with al Qaeda, and groups with a similar Islamic ideology.
Members of al-Nusra, which the U.S. has branded a terrorist organization, have been among the most effective fighters in the rebels’ battle to oust Assad.
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Memories of a long brotherhood tempered in common struggle
- House budget bargain faces Senate filibuster; Republicans line up to oppose
- Broncos-Chargers game ends with several stabbings
- Obama's Afghanistan experts stumped on U.S. death toll, war costs during hearing
- NAPOLITANO: A conspiracy so vast
- Kim Jong-un consolidating power or losing grip on North Korea's military
- Inside China: Ukraine gets nuclear umbrella
- Echoes of Cold War in Ukraine as Russia tries to rein in former Soviet satellites
- PRUDEN: The last living witnesses; they wore the yellow star and remember the Nazi terror
- American missing in Iran was CIA operative who went rogue - Washington Times#pagebreak#pagebreak
- Medicare pays full price for half-empty vials of medicine
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
Consummate traveler Todd DeFeo explores the unique stories that make destinations worth going to.
Covering the world of soccer, including the World Cup, Major League Soccer, D.C. United and the English Premier League and other interesting sporting events.
Born in 1930 in rural Missouri, Charles Vandegriffe, Sr., brings his time and place to the Communities.
Columns from Voices around the World talking about the events, people, politics and social issues that concern us wherever, and whoever, we are.
Extraordinary day at Redskins Park
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow