Syria’s hellish choice

Guest post by DaveM

Less than a week after Assad claimed he was sure of victory Syrian rebels alongside Al Qaeda affiliates managed to capture a strategic airbase in the North and there have been reports of rebels advancing into the Alawite heartland of Latakia

With the fall of Menag military airport Hezbullah’s channel Al Manar went into full Baghdad Bob denial mode.

After the balance of power was overturned in favour of the Syrian Army – with the foiling of the raids on Damascus and the blockade of Ghouta Assharqiya in the outskirts of the capital, the successes in Homs and Darra, in addition to those in Hama and Idlib – the regional patrons of the armed groups turned their attention to confirming [or investigating] a breach of the(ir) covering up of the Syrian Army’s progress.

Because of this the Maneg military airport was chosen to compensate for successive failures. The airport is situated in the northern outskirts of Aleppo which is the armed groups’ centre of gravity, and is approximately five kilometres from the Turkish border. This facilitates the smuggling of men and material from abroad, in the light of talk of Turkish and Saudi involvement from both the intelligence and field sides.

Despite the support of thousands of Arab and foreign fighters and the continuous media incitement, along with the suffocating siege, the armed men failed to gain control of Maneg airport after carrying out over 43 attacks [on the airport] throughout the year.

The latest attempt to take the airport took place on Monday evening where thousands of armed men, half of whom were foreigners, in partnership with groups affiliated with Al Qaeda carried out an attack, the most violent one yet, on Maneg.

The armed men were only able to enter the airport after detonating an armed vehicle carrying over 6 tonnes of explosives which was driven by a Saudi suicide bomber from the so called Emigrants and Helpers Brigades which are led by the Chechen Abu Omar as-Shesheni– this according to the opposition Syrian Observatory

Members of the forces protecting Maneg airport who held their ground for many months did not succumb to the difficult circumstances despite the serious lack of material and support. And the armed groups suffered a huge loss both around the airport and inside it, this according to what a media source confirmed to SANA (Syria state news agency) making clear that the airport protection forces are doing fine and are confronting the armed men at the outskirts of the airport.

This is of course total BS; the rebels have taken the airport. The bad news is that if you look you’ll see the rebels here are mainly Al Qaeda with the Free Syrian Army fighting alongside them. I very much doubt the FSA are doing this out of choice as they’re up against a Russian and Iranian backed killing machine (not to mention all the Shia militias playing a supporting role) . However it’s a a disturbing development and one which cannot be ignored.

Al Jazeera (well, who else?) was filming alongside the jihadis and got this exclusive. In this report you see the black Al Qaeda flag on the airport building and also behind Abu Jandal of the Army of Emigrants and Helpers. [UPDATE – turns out that he’s a leader in the a leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.] The three-starred green, black and white flag is absent.

AJA: Centred among the buildings of Maneg airport fierce battles and direct confrontations took place between fighters and the regime’s tanks.

And after a number of attempts to take over the airport different squads of the Free Syrian Army alongside the Army of Emigrants and Helpers were able to take full control of it and with that send out a political message.

Abu Omar As-Sheshani: “Brothers, Allah willing, all of Syria will be granted victory over the infidels, from the call, Allah willing, with Allah’s permission. This is our message. Takbir! (Allah Akbar!)”

AJA: The battle began with a suicide attack and ended with the destruction of five tanks and the death of over one hundred regime soldiers and fifteen opposition fighters. Alongside that dozens of soldiers were taken prisoner and a huge amount of military material is in the hands of the opposition.

Abu Jandal: “There was very good military planning and all praises to Allah, and we had more than one plan. And Allah be praised, things went as we wished. We’ve secured the airport from so-and-so point……….”

AJA: Alongside the central prison, according to the regime Maneg airport is considered a most important strategic point. Its fall has strengthened the position of the opposition forces, both militarily and in terms of morale. In addition this has opened up the road which links Aleppo to Turkey which had been closed since the beginning of the Syrian revolution. This was because it’s adjacent to the airport.

Radwan Qarnadal, commander of the Fatah Brigade, FSA: “Maneg airport was the last stronghold of Assad’s gangs in the northern countryside, and with it having been taken out, Allah be praised, the north is liberated, even Dwar Allayramoon [where the Air Force Intelligence building is situated].”

AJA: The buildings and homes surrounding the airport were subject to destruction and many civilians were killed and injured in them due to the continuous bombardment from the regime’s aeroplanes, which used both cluster and vacuum bombs.

With the opposition taking control over Maneg military airport, another of the regime’s army’s targets fell, since it was the source of terrifying the residents of this region. And it was also the source for the killing, injuring and displacing of thousands of Syrians. Omar Kashram, Al Jazeera Maneg military airport. The northern outskirts of Aleppo.

Depressingly it’s pretty much in the open that the FSA and the Al Qaeda groups are now coordinating their attacks, even though they’ve clashed in the past. If they’re coordinating, it’s safe to assume they’re sharing weapons, so how on Earth do you keep weapons out of Al Qaeda’s hands? How do you vet the weapons you send to the rebels? Yet at the same time Assad and his killing machine shouldn’t be allowed free rein to kill and maim at will– not just anybody who stands up to it but those who get in the way.

The CIA’s second in command has said that Al Qaeda in Syria pose the greatest security risk to the US. He outlined a scenario where the government could collapse and AQ could get hold of its chemical and biological weapons. Second on this list is Iran, the party backing Assad. Global Al Qaeda, i.e., Al Qaeda outside Syria, comes third. For what it’s worth North Korea limps in at fourth.

There are no easy answers to this mess.

What started off as a protest movement to liberate the country from the horrific and suffocating rule of Ba’athism has turned into a war with jihadis from all over the world coming to fight, not just Sunni extremists but also Shia jihadists looking to kill or be martyred.

It’s the ordinary Syrians who are caught in the middle of this hell, but where’s the way out? The very idea of negotiating with Assad is suicide as he’s doubled down on killing and has pledged to strike the rebels with an iron fist So what’s he been using up till now, a wooden one?

Lebanon’s war lasted 15 years. Syria’s could go on for just as long.

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