Islamic State jihadists turn their sights back on Syria

Syrian regime paying the price for not attacking the jihadists earlier

August 24, 2014 12:22 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:26 pm IST

This August 7, 2014 image posted by the Raqqa Media Centre shows fighters from the Islamic State group on top of a military vehicle with anti-aircraft guns in Syria’s Raqqa Province.

This August 7, 2014 image posted by the Raqqa Media Centre shows fighters from the Islamic State group on top of a military vehicle with anti-aircraft guns in Syria’s Raqqa Province.

Islamic State extremists rampaging through Iraq have now turned their sights back towards Syria, where only a besieged airbase stands between the terror group and a rush for the Mediterranean coast that could split the country in two.

The attack on the Tabqa airbase in eastern Syria comes as IS continues to move back towards areas it controlled north of Aleppo until February. Using weapons the group looted from abandoned Iraqi military bases, IS has returned with a vengeance to the area, stunning regional powers with its rapid advances.

Less than three months after taking Iraq’s second and fourth biggest cities, much of Anbar province and the Syrian border, the group is establishing itself with extraordinary speed as a regional power that will determine the fate of both countries. There are growing fears across the Middle East that no regional military can slow the group’s momentum.

“The Islamic State is now the most capable military power in the Middle East outside Israel,” a senior regional diplomat has said. “They can determine outcomes in a few days that the Syrian rebels took two years to influence. Their capacity is in sharp contrast to the Syrian regime, which is only able to fight one battle at a time and has to fight hard for every success.

IS has surrounded the Tabqa airbase in Raqqa province from all sides, trapping 800 to 1,000 Syrian troops and airmen who have used the base to attack mainstream opposition groups in the north of the country for the past two years. Despite IS gradually subsuming parts of the opposition in northern Syria, the Syrian regime had not attacked the terror group until it launched its offensive into Iraq on June 10. Since then, Syrian jets have bombed 30 targets in Raqqa, which had been a command hub for IS for the past 18 months.

“They did not bomb the [IS] headquarters until June and even then only after it had been evacuated. We are all paying the price now,” Kurdish intelligence chief Masrour Barzani told The Guardian this month.

Western leaders have indicated that a key strategy in tackling IS will involve trying to deprive it of the support of the 20 million Sunni Arabs who live between Damascus and Baghdad. But the difficulties of that approach was underscored on Friday when Shia militia shot dead dozens of Sunnis in a village north of Baghdad. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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