The Syrian Regime Captures Kweires Airbase

Syrian armed forces announced on November 10, 2015 that they have recaptured Kweires Military Airbase (aka Rasm al-Abboud), which lies approximately 23 miles to the east of Aleppo city. The airbase had been besieged by ISIS since early 2015, prior to which it has been surrounded by other Syrian armed groups for over a year. The base itself has been of relatively little military use to the Syrian regime due to its isolation, and has been forced to resupply by helicopter, with a potential troop reinforcement during a lapse in the siege in 2014.

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Map of military situation after the regime capture of Kweires airbase on November 10, 2015 (source: IUCA/Agathocle de Syracuse)

Following the capture, Syrian state media published a news segment reportedly from inside of the base, and photos appeared on social media of pro-regime forces celebrating their victory. The capture of Kweires is the most significant Syrian advance accomplished thus far with the help of the Russian airstrikes, which began on September 30. The pro-regime forces (which reportedly included both Hezbollah, NDF, and Iranian fighters) reportedly approached Kweires from the city of al-Safira to its south, which the regime has held since November 2013. This strategic gain coincides with a nearly month long offensive by pro-regime forces in the southern and western Aleppo countryside, which has seen the capture of several small villages in recent days.

Analysis:

The recapture of Kweires has both political and military implications. The reopening of a ground supply line to Kweires could allow the pro-regime coalition to rehabilitate the base and bring it back online as a launching site for both Russian and Syrian airstrikes. This will be more likely if they can clear a wider area around the airbase of ISIS forces to diminish the potential for shootdowns. It is unlikely that the pro-regime forces will continue their offensive eastward into the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, so this victory will also free up pro-regime forces to be redeployed to other ongoing battles in the Aleppo countryside.

Politically, it may strengthen Russia’s position – or at least its confidence – as it moves into the second Vienna talks this coming Saturday. Russia’s participation in the offensive to retake Kweires will help burnish its anti-ISIS credentials, which have been tarnished by ongoing reports that as little as 10% of the Russian airstrikes have actually targeted ISIS. The victory at Kweires comes in the wake of a Russian statement that the duration of its military operations in Syria will “depend on the progress made by the Syrian army,” laying the rhetorical basis for Russian intervention to continue long beyond the 3-4 months that the Russian Ministry of Defense originally claimed its campaign would last.

Update [Dec. 18, 2015]: On Tuesday, December 15, the regime reportedly resumed flights into Kweires airbase. Opposition forces expect increased attacks against Aleppo city.