As flights resume out of Kweiris, rebel commander expects raids to increase

 A Syrian Arab Air Force pilot, returning from the first flight launched from Kweiris airbase following the regime’s lifting of the Kweiris siege on November 10, greets Colonel Suheil al-Hassan. First documented in July of 2012, weaponized L-39s hold the ignoble distinction of being the first fixed-wing aircraft deployed to suppress revolting protestors. Source: Shaam News Network, originally Syria Satellite TV. Available on YouTube.

The Syrian regime has resumed warplane flights out of Kweiris military airbase, with a local rebel commander predicting on Wednesday that the base will deliver close air support to regime soldiers in the Aleppo countryside, in addition to more frequent air raids against Aleppo city.

“The regime will be flying the L-39 Albatros out of Kweiris, a cheap, light and highly maneuverable ground-attack jet,” a-Sheikh Abd a-Rahman a-Turki, a commander with the Aleppo-based Harakat Nour a-Din a-Zinki rebel brigade, an alleged recipient of American-supplied TOW missiles, told Syria Direct Wednesday.

The Syrian Air Force resumed flights out of Kweiris Tuesday night, but the destination of their missions remains unclear. “With all pride and fortitude, we’ve returned to Kweiris airbase,” a regime pilot told a pro-regime television crew Tuesday night, after returning to the base.

The Czech-designed and built L-39 two-seater aircraft may field a variety of weapons and ordnance, including a 23mm twin-barrel cannon, air-to-air missiles and a 1,000kg conventional bomb load, a-Turki told Syria Direct.

The aircraft will be especially useful for striking rebel infantry and armor targets in support of regime ground operations across the Aleppo countryside, said a-Turki. Since the Kweiris airbase is only 35km east of Aleppo city, the regime will likely “increase raids across Aleppo province,” said the commander.

The Syrian regime announced both a strategic and propaganda victory last month after it broke the Islamic State’s two-year encirclement of Kweiris airbase. In the days following the base’s liberation, the regime publicly celebrated the win, which came just weeks after the Abu Dhuhour airbase in Idlib province fell to Jabhat a-Nusra.

“The Syrian Arab Army’s perseverance at Kweiris strengthened Syria’s defenses and thanks to them we will achieve victory against the terrorists,” Latakia Governor Ibrahim Khader Salim told a reception for returning soldiers and other dignitaries on November 23, SANA news reported.

Whether a newly operational Kweiris will concretely affect al-Assad’s battle prospects in Aleppo is up for debate. Ground-attack aircraft are lacking, and a reopened Kweiris may assist regime ground forces currently fighting amulti-pronged, Russian-backed ground offensivein Aleppo.

Although yet another push to liberate the rebel-encircled Shiite towns ofNubl and Zahraa to the city’s northwest has largely stalled, the regime has made steady and rapid advances in the city’ssouthwest countryside, totaling hundreds of square kilometers since the offensive’s launch on October 16.

 Regime gains in southwest Aleppo since October total hundreds of square kilometers. Map source: Agothecle de Syracuse. For a map of December gains, see “The Situation in South Aleppo on December 14, 2015” by Agothecle de Syracuse.

One citizen journalist says that local residents will blame the Islamic State for accelerated air raids.

“By giving up Kweiris to the regime, the Islamic State is essentially the cause for renewed torment in the form of yet more regime air attacks,” Amir al-Faj, an Aleppo-based journalist told Syria Direct Wednesday.

Photo courtesy of Shaam News Network, originally Syria Satellite TV. Available on YouTube.

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali

Mohammed Al-Haj Ali, originally from Daraa, had completed his first year studying Broadcast Journalism at Damascus University before leaving Syria in August 2012.

Joseph Adams

Joseph was a 2013-2014 Boren Fellow in Arabic based in Amman, Jordan and is the founder of Open Syria. He holds BA and MS degrees in political science from UCLA and MIT, and is an MA degree candidate in Arabic at Middlebury College.

Noura Hourani

Noura Hourani is from Latakia province. She studied English Literature at Tishreen University and previously worked as a private English tutor in Syria. She has worked at Syria Direct since 2015 and was named the 2018 Middle East and North Africa Laureate for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers' (WAN-IFRA) Women in News Editorial Leadership Award.