US ‘takes control’ of Rmeilan airfield in Syria
Under a deal with Kurdish group, activists say US will use airfield to support fighters against ISIL in northern Syria.
Correction: An earlier version of this story eroneously showed a photo the Prince Sultan airbase in Saudi Arabia instead of the Rmeilan airfield in Syria.
US troops have taken control of Rmeilan airfield in Syria’s northern province of Hasakah to support Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told Al Jazeera.
The airfield near the city of Rmeilan, which will become the first US-controlled airbase in Syria, was previously controlled by the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
The airfield is close to Syria’s borders with Iraq and Turkey.
“Under a deal with the YPG, the US was given control of the airport. The purpose of this deal is to back up the SDF, by providing weapons and an airbase for US warplanes,” Taj Kordsh, a media activist from the SDF told Al Jazeera on Tuesday.
“This airport was previously controlled by the YPG for over two years now. This strategic airport is close to several oil bases – one of the biggest in this area.
“Rmeilan airport was previously used for agricultural purposes by the Syrian government,” he said.
Previous reports published by the Syrian Local Coordination Committees say that the US has been preparing and expanding Rmeilan airport for a while now.
When asked by Al Jazeera, a US CENTCOM media operations officer did not confirm or deny the reports.
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The US has previously supplied the SDF with weapons. It also backs the group with its air strikes in their fight against (ISIL) in northern Syria.
The SDF was founded in Syria’s mainly Kurdish northeastern region in October 2015, and is made up of at least 15 armed factions – mostly fighters from the YPG and the Free Syrian Army.
The fighters include Christians, Arabs and about 500 foreign fighters, Kordsh said, adding that some groups in Aleppo and Idlib pledged allegiance to the SDF last month.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor also reported on Tuesday that the US had taken control of the airbase.
Sourcing activists, the Observatory said the airfield is still being prepared for use by the US.