By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
After a series of fierce clashes, the penultimate Pro-Assadist stronghold in Northern Syria is still holding out against fighters of the Islamic State. Tabqa airbase is now the fourth base to have been targeted by fighters of the Islamic State in a series of offensives conducted in lightning speed.
Similar to the attack on Brigade 93, the base was pounded by artillery and multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) captured at Regiment 121 and Brigade 93. However, while the capture of Regiment 97, Brigade 93 and Regiment 121 went smoothly, fighters of the Islamic State fell into a prepared, well-executed trap during the assault on Tabqa. Subsequently the Islamic State only managed to capture one anti-aircraft position and a few buildings.
Much of this has to do with the inability of the Islamic State to succesfully defend itself against enemy aircraft, a gap in capabilities fully exploited by the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF), which not only flew sorties against fighters of the Islamic State, but also managed to resupply the base using Il-76 and An-26 transport planes.
The defence of Tabqa rested on the SyAAF's ability to provide sufficient air cover to not only help defend the base, but also strike back at Islamic State positions. The initial assault was slowed down by the many minefields surrounding the airbase, during which the fighters also came under heavy fire from multiple sides. The SyAAF was subsequently unleashed on the fighters of the Islamic State, which were out in the open and fully exposed. The MiG-21s still present at the airbase remained active during the assault, flying sorties from Tabqa's 9.842 feet long runway.
The spoils of Regiment 121, captured by the Islamic State
The spoils of Brigade 93, captured by the Islamic State