After a four-day battle, jihadi fighters from the Islamic State (IS) terror group overtook a Syrian military airport in Raqqa on Sunday, securing the last piece of their accumulation of the entire province.
President Bashar al-Assad’s state-run Syrian news agency admitted Sunday that the Tabqa air base had indeed been lost and that Syrian forces had successfully regrouped “after evacuating the airport.”
Tabqa is home to an array of fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, artillery, and large caches of ammunition. It is unknown if Syrian forces were able to secure their armaments before conceding defeat and evacuating the base.
Massive casualties amounted on both sides of the fight over Tabqa. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights accounted for 346 IS deaths, along with 170 soldiers in Assad’s Syrian Army who were executed in the fight over Tabqa. According to the IS jihadi group’s internal numbers, only 78 of its militants died in the battle. The Observatory believes that the Islamic State has captured 150 Syrian soldiers near the base. “Some of the Syrian regime troops pulled out, and now ISIS is in full control of Tabqa. This makes Raqqa province the first to fully fall out of the government’s hands,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, Observatory director.
IS militants relied upon suicide bombers in the initial phase of the attack on the Tabqa air base, hoping to soften up the entrances into the heavily armed barracks, Mcclatchy reported. The successful initiative was led by an Islamic State commander identified as Al Daghstani, whom many believe comes from the Daghestan region in Russia.
Witnesses told Reuters that after IS’s successful takeover, celebratory gunfire could be heard everywhere, while local mosques delightedly announced on their PA systems, “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is greater!”
Last month, President Assad promised that the Raqqa base would not be “forgotten.” The Syrian dictator said, “Although we have made great achievements in our war against terrorism in the past period, we have not forgotten and will not forget our beloved Raqqa, which, God willing, we will soon rid of the terrorists.”
In the past month, IS fighters have seized two other military bases. Last month, the Islamic State seized Syria’s Division 17 military base in Raqqa, killing 85 of Assad’s forces. Two weeks ago, the jihadis again struck, taking over the government forces’ Brigade 93 base.
Separately, rocket fire fell from Syria into Israel’s Golan Heights. “At least five rockets fired from Syria hit different locations across the Golan Heights,” said an Israeli military spokesperson.