January 20, 2015
Jabhat a-Nusra captured the Idlib village of Tel Selmu from regime forces January 13. The village overlooks the regime-controlled Abu a-Thuhur military airport, now encircled by rebels for the past two years, reported pro-opposition Enabbaladi news. Tel Salmu is also the main source of drinking water for regime soldiers stationed in the airport.
Following the village’s fall, Nusra, Ahrar a-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa and local FSA battalions turned their attention to capturing Abu a-Thuhur. Abu a-Thuhur is the second-largest regime airport in northern Syria, and remains a fixed stronghold in southeast Idlib, reported Sham News Network last week.
The battle is set to be a difficult one after the regime reportedly sent reinforcements to Abu a-Thuhur after Tel Selmu fell. Nusra shot down a cargo plane transporting soldiers and ammunition to the airport over the weekend, reported pro-opposition Orient News.
“Despite all of the reinforcements, there is a [viable] strategy for storming the airport,” the leader of one of the brigades besieging the airport, who requested anonymity, tells Syria Direct’s Noura al-Hourani.
Suicide operations carried out by Nusra, the group “charged with reaching the heart of the airport,” combined with planting explosives throughout, should do the trick, the military source says.
“Just as it happened in Tabqa airport before, when the Islamic State took it.”
Q: News has circulated that Jabhat a-Nusra wanted to unilaterally storm the airport, just as it tried to do in Wadi a-Deif and al-Hamidiya. Is this true?
Nusra isn’t able to act without cooperating with the other brigades, and vice versa. They complete each other, but Nusra is trying to prove that is is able to decide the battle by itself, for political reasons connected with [foreign] support.
Q: After the rebels took control of Tel Selmu, regime forces increased their military reinforcements inside the airport, which makes storming the base difficult. What is the rebels’ strategy?
After the rebels took Tel Selmu village, regime forces did indeed retreat to the airport. But despite all of the reinforcements, there is a [viable] strategy for storming the airport by means of planting explosives and suicide operations, at least as far as Nusra is concerned—they are charged with reaching the heart of the airport.
Just as it happened in Tabqa airport before [in A-Raqqa], when the Islamic State took it. Nusra’s storming strategy is similar to IS’s.
Nusra fighters take aim at Abu a-Thuhur airport after taking Tel Selmu. Photo courtesy of @Idlib_JN.
Q: Some news reports have come out that Nusra’s control over Tel Selmu led to displacements of residents, to the point where the area became empty—is this true?
No it’s not, but the regime increased their air raids on the villages surrounding the airport [following the rebel takeover of Tel Selmu] and targeted civilians’ houses, which killed a number of people. That is what pushed the locals to leave the area.
Q: News has come out about the withdrawal of Nusra from the battle [for the Abu a-Thuhur military airport]. Who is currently participating in the siege of the airport?
Nusra did not withdraw, but rather reinforced the Nubul and Zahra fronts [north of Aleppo city, by sending troops there]. Nusra, Ahrar a-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa and some FSA battalions from the city of Abu a-Thuhur are currently besieging the airport.
Q: What is the importance of taking control of the airport for the battle in the Idlib countryside?
The airport is a big point of support for regime forces in the Idlib countryside, in addition to its importance in terms of the regime [being able to] strike Saraqib and most cities in the area.
The storming of the airport was delayed because the battle for Nubul and Zahra began, and it wasn’t possible to undertake two separate battles at the same time.
Q: Seeing as several brigades might storm the airport, how will the war booty and conquered areas that are taken in joint battles be divided up?
As for the material booty, like weapons, they are directly portioned out among the brigades. Alternatively, they are returned to the joint operations room, so the room can determine the hottest fronts for each brigade, and send the weapons out on that basis.
As for the areas of control, each brigade takes control of the area it liberated.
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