The Syrian Air Force has destroyed two fighter jets belonging to the Islamic State just days after observers claimed to have witnessed the terror group training fighters to use them.
Monitoring groups in the war-ravaged country last week claimed to have seen the fanatics flying three captured warplanes over short distances from an airbase in Aleppo – understood to be the first time ISIS has taken to the sky.
This morning Syria’s Information Minister Omran Zoabi told state news agency SANA that the air force had already destroyed two of the planes and is continuing to search for the third jet.
On Friday the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS had been flying warplanes over the captured al-Jarrah military airport east of Aleppo.
Iraqi pilots trained under former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein were said to have joined ISIS and were conducting training flights in three fighter jets that had been seized from the Syrian regime.
On Friday Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the militants ‘have trainers, Iraqi officers who were pilots before for Saddam Hussein.’
‘People saw the flights, they went up many times from the airport and they are flying in the skies outside the airport and coming back,’ he added, citing witnesses in northern Aleppo province near the base, which is 45 miles south of Turkey.
It was not clear if the jets were equipped with weaponry or whether the pilots could fly longer distances. Witnesses near the base in northern Syria said the jets appeared to be decades old MiG21 or MiG23 models captured from the Syrian military.
Twitter accounts linked to ISIS had previously posted pictures of captured jets in other parts of Syria, but the aircraft had appeared unusable, according to analysts and diplomats.
The group has captured several major military airfields, including the vast Tabqa complex, close to their headquarters in the Syrian city of Raqqa and seized aircraft, helicopters and heavy weapons.
The base was reportedly one of the Syrian military’s largest facilities in the region, with several warplane squadrons, helicopters, tanks, artillery and ammunition.
Defence analysts say that it unlikely the group’s MiGs could be used conventionally as the US-led coalition of Syrian forces would shoot them down.
Instead, they could be deployed for spectacular low-level suicide attacks on western targets in the Kurdish city or Irbil or the Iraqi capital Baghdad where the US and Britain have a major presence.
The U.S. military said yesterday it was unaware of any flight operations by the group ‘in Syria or elsewhere’.
‘We’re not aware of ISIL (IS) conducting any flight operations in Syria or elsewhere,’ said Central Command spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder.
‘We continue to keep a close eye on ISIL activity in Syria and Iraq and will continue to conduct strikes against their equipment, facilities, fighters and centres of gravity, wherever they may be,’ he added.
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