AMMAN: Jabhat a-Nusra seized the Abu a-Duhur military airport in west Idlib province on Wednesday and is now reportedly securing the grounds of what was once the regime’s second-largest airbase, Ala al-Kujik, a first lieutenant with the Victory Army rebel coalition, told Syria Direct on Wednesday.
“An official statement isn’t out yet, but rebel forces are now combing the airport’s grounds,” said al-Kujik.
The 3km-long airbase, containing 20 hardened aircraft shelters, lies just east of a major thoroughfare, connecting Idlib, Hama and Aleppo provinces, said al-Kujik of the base’s importance.
Although al-Kujik is affiliated with the Idlib-based Victory Army, it is unclear to what extent member Victory Army brigades assisted Jabhat a-Nusra in the battle to capture Abu a-Duhur.
Official word of the airport’s fall has yet to come, yet a Wednesday tweet by a Nusra-linked account claimed the “complete liberation” of Abu a-Duhur.
State media, for its part, confirmed that regime forces are in retreat. “Defending forces have left their positions in the airport,” following “a fierce battle with the terrorists,” Syria Radio and Television reported on Wednesday.
With the exception of the rebel-encircled Shiite villages of al-Fuaa and Kafariya, Abu a-Duhur was the regime’s last outpost in Idlib province. Nusra rebels captured the airbase’s west gate late last month, yet reportedly exploited this week’s thick sandstorm, which grounded regime airpower, to finally seize Abu a-Duhur.
The reported spoils of Abu a-Duhur include several MiG-21 warplanes, 15 helicopters, four field guns, a number of tanks and tens of regime prisoners, an Idlib-based journalist close to the fighting told Syria Direct on Wednesday.
Several pro-opposition social media accounts shared images as early as Tuesday afternoon of rebel fighters inside Abu a-Duhur, climbing atop a MiG-23s warplane, and posing by decrepit R-23 missiles and bullet-riddled MiG-23 fuel tanks.
Rebel fighters inspect a captured MiG-23 warplane.
Twitter user @finriswolf, who regularly posts current, high-resolution satellite imagery, confirmed the location on Tuesday of at least one image of a rebel fighter photographed inside Abu a-Duhur (below).
A rebel fighter, inside Abu a-Duhur, at the northwest corner of the airbase, at approximately 35°44’12.22″N, 37° 5’12.51″E. Geolocation courtesy of @finriswolf.