On November 28, Syrian rebels in Idleb Province achieved a telling breakthrough in their war against the Assad regime. For the first time, the rebels succeeded in downing one of the dictator’s Russian-made MiG fighter jets.
This was the latest piece of bad news for Assad in a war which is no longer going his way. The stalemate that set in six months ago when it became clear that the regime no longer had the strength to reconquer areas held by the rebellion is now being broken.
But whereas six months ago the government forces hoped eventually to break the jam, it is now the rebellion which is conquering territory. The insurgents are slowly and inexorably driving the government troops back to the core areas that they must hold in order to survive.
The downing of the MiG fighter tops off a month that has brought only bad news for Bashar Assad. On November 20, rebels captured the headquarters of the 46th regiment 25 kilometers west of Aleppo city. The capture of the base brought an end to a 50-day siege, netting a large haul of weapons for the insurgency. The ordnance captured at the base included heavy artillery cannons, rocket launchers, a number of tanks, mortars, and rifles. The fall of the base is also a blow to the beleaguered government force still holding parts of western Aleppo city.
The 46th regiment headquarters was a major part of the supply line to this force, which is in danger of encirclement. Assad can no longer supply his forces in this city by road, because the rebels control points along the Damascus-Aleppo highway, most importantly the town of Maaret Numan. The fall of Aleppo city in its entirety now looks achievable. This would constitute a strategic blow to the dictator.
In addition, this month the insurgency captured al-Hamdan airbase in Deir Ez-Zor province, close to the border with Iraq. The fall of this base leaves the regime with only one major airfield in northern Syria. Since domination of the air is the main advantage remaining to the regime, this constitutes another significant blow. Control of the Hamdan base also strengthens the rebels’ domination of the city of Abu Kamal, along the border.
In recent days, the FSA claims to have captured the Tishrin Dam along the Euphrates river close to the Iraqi border, and two oil facilities in Deir Ez-Zor governate.
On November 27, a helicopter gunship was downed west of Aleppo city. And then, the MiG fighter.
The rebellion now controls a swath of territory in the country’s north. The regime still has isolated strongholds in Aleppo and Idleb Provinces, but these are slowly being picked off by the rebels. There is a real possibility that in the first months of 2013 all of northern Syria will fall.