Just a week after losing the big Palmyra air base to the Islamic State – and with it large stocks of ammo and military equipment – Syrian military and air units Wednesday, May 27, began pulling out of the big air base at Deir ez-Zour. This was Bashar Assad’s last military stronghold in eastern Syria and the last air facility for enabling fighter-bombers to strike ISIS forces in northeastern Syria and the western Iraqi province of Anbar.
His surrender of the Deir ez-Zour base is evidence that the Syrian president has run out of fighting strength for defending both his front lines and his air bases. He is also too tied down to be able to transfer reinforcements from front to front. He is therefore pulling in the remnants of his army from across the country for the defense of the capital, Damascus.
debkafile’s military sources report that the Islamic State now has in its sights the Syrian army’s biggest air facility, T4 Airbase, which is located on the fast highway linking Homs with Damascus 140 km away.
It is home base for the bulk of the air force’s fighters and bombers. In its hangars are an estimated 32 MiG-25 fighters, as well as smaller numbers of MiG-25PDS interceptors, designed for combat with the Israeli air force, MiG-25RBT bombers-cum-surveillance planes; MiG-25PU trainers, which are routinely used to strike rebel forces in crowded built-up areas, and advanced MiG-29SM fighter jets.
Stationed there too are 20 advanced Su-24M2 bombers, the strategic backbone of the Syrian air force.
T4 Airbase also holds the largest Syrian stocks of guided bombs, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.
In the last few hours, air crews have been frantically removing these warplanes from T4 and distributing them among smaller bases in central Syria, at the cost of their operational effectiveness.
In the space of a week, therefore, Bashar Assad has lost three of his major air bases, including Palmyra, where Iranian and Russian air freights had been landing regularly with fresh supplies of ordnance and spare parts for his army.
Our military experts say that this bonanza frees ISIS to cut off the eastern, northern and central regions from the capital, and deprive the Syrian and Hizballah units battling for control of the Qalamoun Mts of air support against rebel and Islamist forces.
If they manage to take T4 as well, the Islamists will be able to prevent US jets from taking off for strikes against them in Syria, or bombing the their forces which have seized long stretches of the fast highway from Homs to Damascus.