BASE OF THE 46TH REGIMENT, Syria — After a nearly two-month siege, Syrian rebels overwhelmed a large military base in the north of the country and made off with tanks, armored vehicles and truckloads of munitions that rebel leaders say will give them a boost in the fight against President Bashar Assad’s army.
The rebel capture of the base of the Syrian army’s 46th Regiment is a sharp blow to the government’s efforts to roll back rebels gains and shows a rising level of organization among opposition forces.
More important than the base’s fall, however, are the weapons the rebels found inside.
At a rebel base where the much of the haul was taken after the weekend victory, rebel fighters unloaded half a dozen large trucks piled high with green boxes full of mortars, artillery shells, rockets and rifles taken from the base. Parked nearby were five tanks, two armored vehicles, two rocket launchers and two heavy-caliber artillery cannons.
Around 20 Syrian soldiers captured in the battle were put to work carrying munitions boxes, barefoot and stripped to the waist. Rebels refused to let reporters talk to them or see where they were being held.
“There has never been a battle before with this much booty,” said Gen. Ahmad al-Faj of the rebels Joint Command, a grouping of rebel brigades that was involved in the siege. Speaking on Monday at the rebel base, set up in a former customs office at Syria’s Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, he said the haul would be distributed among the brigades.
For months, Syria’s rebels have gradually been destroying government checkpoints and taking over towns in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo along the Turkish border.
Rebel fighters say that weapons seized in such battles have been essential to their transformation from ragtag brigades into forces capable of challenging Assad’s professional army. Cross-border arms smuggling from Turkey and Iraq has also played a role, although the most common complaint among rebel fighters is that they lack ammunition and heavy weapons, munitions and anti-aircraft weapons to fight Assad’s air force.
It is unclear how many government bases the rebels have overrun during the 20-month conflict, mostly because they rarely try to hold captured facilities. Staying in the captured bases would make them sitting ducks for regime airstrikes.