Siege of Menagh Air Base

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Siege of Menagh Air Base
Part of the Syrian Civil War
Date 2 August 2012 – 6 August 2013
(1 year and 4 days)
Location Menagh Air Base, Aleppo, Syria
36°31′19″N 037°2′28″E / 36.52194°N 37.04111°E / 36.52194; 37.04111Coordinates: 36°31′19″N 037°2′28″E / 36.52194°N 37.04111°E / 36.52194; 37.04111
Result

Rebel victory[4]

  • Rebels capture the Menagh Air Base
Belligerents

SyrianNationalCoalitionOfficialLogo.svg National Coalition

Al-Nusra Front[1]

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Aug. 2013)[3]

Flag of Syria.svg Syrian Arab Republic

Commanders and leaders
Syria Amar al-Dadikhi (WIA)[5]
(Northern Storm Brigade)
Syria Abu Marwan[6]
(Northern Storm Brigade)
Abu Omar al-Chechen
(Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar)
Abu Omar al-Shishani[7]
(ISIL top commander)
Brig. Gen. Ali Salim Mahmoud [8]
Col. Naji Abu Shaar [9]
Units involved
Northern Storm Brigade
Tawhid Brigades[3]
Liwa al-Fatah
12th Armored Brigade
Strength

Hundreds[10]

300 (as of January 2013)[5]
200+ (as of May 2013)[11]

70[12]–120[13][14][15] (as of August 2013)
Casualties and losses
300 killed[9] 52+ killed[13][16]
Menagh Air Base is located in Syria
Menagh Air Base
Menagh Air Base
Location within Syria

The Siege of Menagh Air Base (also spelled Menegh, Mannagh, or Minakh) was an armed confrontation between the Free Syrian Army and aligned Islamist rebel groups on one hand, and the Syrian Armed Forces on the other.[17]

Background[edit]

After months of conflict and failure on the part of the rebels to overthrow Bashar al-Assad's government, some rebels began to switch tactics to targeting government-held military bases. The Menagh air base had been a crucial military base used by Syrian military aircraft to suppress rebel forces in the north of the country, particularly in Aleppo city.[citation needed]

Siege[edit]

2012[edit]

The first major rebel assault against the base came in the weeks following the start of the Battle of Aleppo. Rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army and affiliated groups launched an attack against the air base on 2 August 2012 using a combination of small arms, RPGs, and five tanks they captured during the Battle of Anadan. The base had been used by government helicopters and jet aircraft to bombard rebel positions, and seizing it was seen as vital to securing victory across northern Syria.[18]

The initial rebel attack on the base in early August was fought off by government troops entrenched inside the air base's perimeter, though rebel commanders said they would continue the siege and "liberate" the base.[19]

Heavy fighting broke out on the night of 27 December and continued "all night", as rebels once again assaulted the besieged base. MiG warplanes bombed rebel positions on the outskirt of the base in an effort to alleviate some of the pressure on the defenders.[20]

2013[edit]

By January 2013, the base still held out against the rebels, despite being besieged on all sides. The remaining defenders were receiving supplies of weapons and food, as well as medical evacuations by helicopter; however, these flights became increasingly risky for pilots as rebel forces gained access to heavy weaponry and fired upon government helicopters. At this point the rebels estimated roughly 300 soldiers remained defending the air base. Soldiers who defected from the base reported that food supplies were a major issue and that soldiers were given rations of dry rice and wheat and told to "make what they can from it". Self-inflicted injuries were also reported as soldiers attempted to get away from the fighting.[5]

On 8 February, the Syrian Air Force bombed parts of the base after rebels stormed it, forcing the rebel fighters to retreat.[21]

A rebel attack was once again repulsed by government troops on 28 April, though rebels did manage to overrun some parts of the base before being forced to withdraw.[22] At least 15 rebels were killed during the assault.[10]

On 5 May 2013, as the siege of the base continued and government soldiers still refused to surrender, rebels launched their biggest offensive against the base to date, overrunning several Army positions and moving deep inside the base and capturing a tank, although they came under heavy aerial attack by the Syrian air force.[23] Rebels claimed that a group of pilots defected and assassinated the base's commanding officer. The defecting pilots told rebels that around 200 soldiers remained in the base, garrisoned in the headquarters building supported by a handful of tanks. Many soldiers resorted to sleeping under tanks, fearing a rebel assault.[11]

On 9 May 2013, it was reported that, although they managed to capture parts of the Menagh military airport, rebel forces were forced to retreat from the air base due to heavy air strikes.[24]

On 28 May 2013, rebel sources reported that the government conducted a successful airborne resupply mission to the Menagh after several thousand FSA and jihadist rebels moved west to launch an attack on Kurdish fighters of the Popular Protection Units (YPG) in the Afrin region, bringing critical military and logistical supplies to the air base.[25] The YPG is the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has fought against both rebels and government troops in Kurdish-populated areas of Syria.

On 7 June 2013, rebel forces attacked the air base, firing tank shells at its command building, but were once again repelled.[26] Rebel forces launched another assault on 10 June, and by the next day had managed to secure the control tower after heavy fighting.[27] Government forces responded by shelling rebel held parts of the base.[28] On 17 June, rebels clashed with pro-government fighters from Nubbul and Zahra who were headed for Menagh in an effort to reinforce the soldiers left in the base.[29]

On 23 June 2013 the SOHR reported that rebels had detonated a large car-bomb in the government-held area of Menagh, killing 12 soldiers and destroying many buildings within the airport. The explosion was reportedly followed by missile fire on army positions.[16]

Final assault[edit]

On 5 August 2013, a final rebel assault, led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) group,[30]was launched. By this point, 70[12]–120[13][14][15] government soldiers had remained, holding out in a small section of the complex. The attack started when two foreign suicide bombers, one of them a Saudi, drove an armored personnel carrier right up to the airport's command center and blew themselves up, destroying the building and killing or scattering the defenders. Scattered fighting continued, however, by the morning of the next day, rebel forces had full control of the airport. During the final battle, 32 government soldiers and at least 19 rebels were killed.[4][3][13] According to the insurgents on the morning of the final attack, 10 soldiers defected to the rebels and claimed to had attempted but failed to kill the base commander, who was later captured as he attempted to retreat with his men.[15]

About 70 soldiers, who managed to retreat from the base during the battle, surrendered themselves (and two tanks) the next day to Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) forces in the town of Afrin, about 15 kilometers west of the airbase.[14][31] It was later reported that the surrendered troops were from the 17th Division and the unit's senior officers were turned over by the YPG to al-Nusra in exchange for Kurdish prisoners.[32] The Islamist group then executed the officers they had received.[32][33]

Aftermath[edit]

Two and a half years later, in February 2016, Kurdish forces supported by Russian airstrikes captured the base from the rebels.[34]

References[edit]

  1. ^ CNN, 22 January 2013, Rebels in northern Syria pin hopes on airbase's downfall
  2. ^ New York Times, 5 August 2013, Rebels Gain Control of Government Air Base in Syria
  3. ^ a b c Reuters, 5 August 2013, Syrian rebels capture military airport near Turkey
  4. ^ a b Al Arabiya, 6 August 2013, FSA takes control of Menagh air base near Aleppo
  5. ^ a b c C. J. Chivers, New York Times, 30 January 2013, The Battle for Syria's Minakh Air Base
  6. ^ Richard Hall, The Independent, 24 January 2013, If Syria's rebels can't take The Fortress, how can they take the capital?
  7. ^ a b "Ex-Soviet exiles: One of Daesh's deadliest weapons". Daily Sabah. 4 July 2016. 
  8. ^ SYRIAN REBELS ENTER NORTHERN AIR BASE Associated Press,5 May 2013
  9. ^ a b Syria civil war: State-of-the-art technology gives President Assad’s army the edge
  10. ^ a b worldtribune.com, 1 May 2013, Rebels battle Assad forces for key air base in northern Syria
  11. ^ a b C. J. Chivers, New York Times, 15 May 2013, Battlefield Update: The Fight for Isolated Government Outposts in Northern Syria
  12. ^ a b BBC, 6 August 2013, Syria rebels 'capture key Aleppo airbase'
  13. ^ a b c d Wall Street Journal, 6 August 2013, Capture of Syrian Air Base Shows al Qaeda's Increasing Sway
  14. ^ a b c CTV News, 7 August 2013, Syrian troops kill more than 60 rebels in latest blow to opposition fighters
  15. ^ a b c United Press International, 6 August 2013, Syrian rebels seize control of government air base in Aleppo province
  16. ^ a b Bloomberg, 23 June 2013, Syrian Rebels’ Car Bomb Explodes Inside Aleppo Airbase
  17. ^ Daily Telegraph, 30 October 2012, Syria: rebels battle for control of regime military bases
  18. ^ The News International, 3 August 2012, Rebels use tanks to attack air base
  19. ^ Daily Telegraph, 2 August 2012, Syrian rebels use captured army tanks to attack Aleppo airforce base
  20. ^ Fox News, 28 December 2012, Government airstrike in northern Syria reportedly kills 14 as rebels attack airbase
  21. ^ Agence France Presse, yourmiddleeast.com, 9 February 2013, Syrian warplanes hit rebels inside airbase
  22. ^ CNN, 28 April 2013, Syrian rebels attack military airports across country, opposition says
  23. ^ Huffington Post, 5 May 2013, Syrian Mannagh Air Base Entered By Rebels
  24. ^ CBC News, 9 May 2013, Syrian forces shell northern cities
  25. ^ Sheikho, Youssef (28 May 2013). "Syria: Border Clashes Pit FSA Against Kurds". Al-Akhbar. Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  26. ^ Associated Press, Yahoo News, 7 June 2013, Syrian Troops Capture Central Villages
  27. ^ Al Jazeera, 10 June 2013, Syrian rebels reportedly make fresh advances in their battle for Minnigh airbase in northern Syria
  28. ^ Al Arabiya, 11 June 2013, Syria army launches attack on Aleppo airbase
  29. ^ Reuters, 17 June 2013, Putin, Obama face off over Syria; rebels get Saudi missiles
  30. ^ Wall Street Journal, 6 August 2013, [www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323420604578652250872942058 Islamists Seize Airbase Near Aleppo]
  31. ^ Firat News Agency, 6 August 2013, YPG: 70 asker esir alındı, 2 tanka el koyuldu
  32. ^ a b Robert Fisk, Syria civil war: State-of-the-art technology gives President Assad’s army the edge The Independent 26 February 2016
  33. ^ Live Leak, 8 August 2014, [1]
  34. ^ Turkey shells northern Syria for second day – monitor Reuters 14 February 2016