Report: Islamic State Training Pilots On Captured Syrian Jets
Reuters is reporting that groups monitoring the war in Syria are saying that former members of the Iraqi military who have defected to the Islamic State are training pilots using jets captured from the Syrian military:
(Reuters) – Iraqi pilots who have joined Islamic State in Syria are training members of the group to fly in three captured fighter jets, a group monitoring the war said on Friday, saying it was the first time that the militant group had taken to the air.
The group has been flying the planes over the captured al-Jarrah Syrian military airport east of Aleppo, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, citing witnesses in Syria’s northern Aleppo province.
“They have trainers, Iraqi officers who were pilots before for (former Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein,” he said.
“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.”
It was not clear whether the jets were equipped with weaponry or whether the pilots could fly longer distances in the planes, which witnesses said appeared to be MiG 21 or MiG 23 models captured from the Syrian military.
The Islamic State/ISIS forces don’t seem to have access to any air power outside of the planes mentioned here, and its unclear what kind of access they have to weaponry, spare parts, or jet fuel. Even with these resources, three jets that may only be capable of training missions isn’t necessarily a huge threat. Nonetheless, if this is true it shows that the forces of the Islamic State are far from the ragtag band of terrorists that has been described in the media, although that should be eminently clear given the swaths of territory that they have managed to hold on to in both Syria and Iraq. Additionally, of course, the possibility that one of these gets could be turned into a suicide weapon against a target in the region is one worth considering as well.