Forces of the Islamic State captured Tabqah air base near Raqqa, Syria, this past weekend, eliminating one of the Assad regime’s few footholds in the sparsely populated eastern half of the country. Raqqa is the province of Syria over which the Islamic State has the best control — it took over the city of Raqqa in mid 2013, but the regime had held onto the air base until now. Raqqa is on the Euphrates River and the province contains some of Syria’s oil resources, which the Islamic State has kept flowing and been selling to Assad.
Syria researcher Charles Lister of the Brookings Institute’s Doha Center shows some of the equipment that the jihadists seized in taking the base:
Hundreds of Islamic State fighters reportedly died in trying to take the strategically important base, making it potentially one of the most deadly clashes between rebels and the regime in the entire three-year conflict. That’s a big loss, but the group has made some noticeable gains recently, engaging in much more direct confrontation with the Assad regime than the group has in the past. (Last year, for instance, it seized Raqqa from fellow rebel groups, after they’d taken the city from the regime.) Its recruitment in Syria has also reportedly been surging of late.