The Islamic State has claimed on social media that it is utilizing captured Syrian pilots to learn how to fly stolen jets, according to a CNN Arabic report over the weekend. The Syrian pilots, which are part of the Syrian Armed Forces loyal to president Bashar al-Assad, had been captured after the Islamic State seized Tabqa airbase in Raqqa, Syria.
The Islamic State took Tabqa airbase after a four-day battle with the Syrian military. Tabqa is home to a plethora of fighter jets, helicopters, artillery, and large caches of ammunition. It still remains unclear how much quantity of the munitions the Syrian forces were able to secure before the remaining units evacuated the air base. According to Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal, the IS militants were able to grab at least three MiG fighter Jets. In an interview with Breitbart News, former Reagan National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane said that the Islamic State was also in possession of MANPADS (Man-portable air-defense systems), which are capable of shooting down commercial jetliners.
The report comes on the heels of recent news that Islamist fighters in Libya were able to steal eleven commercial airliners at Tripoli’s International Airport. US officials feared that the jets could be used to attack New York City and Washington, D.C. on the anniversary of the September, 11, 2001 attacks.
US President Barack Obama said in a news conference Wednesday in Estonia that the Islamic State is currently a “manageable problem,” and that “Justice will be served” for the recent execution of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Obama said:
We know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities to the point where it is a manageable problem. And the question is going to be making sure we’ve got the right strategy, but also making sure we’ve got the international will to do it.