News / Middle East

    US Confirms Involvement in Syria Airfield Expansion

    Qamishli airport in northeastern Syria – a civilian airport controlled by the Syrian regime that is reportedly used by Russian military aircraft flying missions in support of the regime.
    Qamishli airport in northeastern Syria – a civilian airport controlled by the Syrian regime that is reportedly used by Russian military aircraft flying missions in support of the regime.
    Zana OmarCarla Babb

    At the urging of an American contingent, Syrian Kurds are expanding an airbase on farmland in northeast Syria that could be used for military purposes, according to Kurdish and U.S. officials.

    Known as Abu Hajar airport, the airbase is located in the Rmelan area of northern Syria, and is controlled by the Kurdish People's Defense Units and the Syrian Democratic Forces. Neither has an air force.

    A team of Americans pitched the idea to Syrian Democratic Forces to extend the runway, a defense official told VOA on the condition of anonymity.

    The official Wednesday said the airfield is being extended from 700 meters to 1,300 meters.

    Map showing the proximity of the Abu Hajar and Qamishli airports in northeastern Syria
    Map showing the proximity of the Abu Hajar and Qamishli airports in northeastern Syria

    The extension would be long enough to allow C-130 transport planes to land on the strip and potentially supply those fighting Islamic State forces in the area.

    “We need runways over there. Our guys said, ‘Hey, it might not be a bad idea to extend this runway,’” the official said.

    The official added that while Americans did suggest the runway extension, there are no Americans physically helping with the airfield improvement.

    Airbase use

    Talal Silo, a spokesman for the Syria Democratic Forces, told VOA the airbase previously was used to carry agricultural products in the region and is now being expanded for humanitarian and, possibly, military use.

    “This does not mean it is a military base,” he said. “We will use it to receive humanitarian and reconstruction aid.”

    Still, Silo told VOA that using the airbase for military purposes by the U.S. is a possibility because “we are a strategic partner to the U.S.”

    FILE - Qamishli is the largest city in a part of Syria that has been largely untouched by the war against Islamic State. (M. Civiroglu/VOA)
    FILE - Qamishli is the largest city in a part of Syria that has been largely untouched by the war against Islamic State. (M. Civiroglu/VOA)

    “This is a normal thing to happen as a part of our strategic partnership with the U.S,” Silo said. “In the past, we received three airdrops of ammunition from the Americans. In the future, we may come to an agreement with the U.S. to use the airbase for aircrafts. We will not oppose that.”

    Two U.S officials denied any U.S. military involvement in the planning or extending of the airfield, but refused to confirm or deny reports of CIA involvement.

    Not "US defense effort'

    Another U.S. official cautioned that the airfield expansion is “not a U.S. defense effort.”

    "The U.S. military has not taken control of any airfield in Syria and press reports to the contrary are incorrect,” Colonel Pat Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which overseas military operations in Iraq and Syria, told VOA in a statement. “That being said, U.S. forces in Syria are consistently looking for ways to increase efficiency for logistics and personnel recovery support."

    Still, the Kurdish military spokesman Silo said American military experts will soon come to train Kurdish forces.

    FILE - This Kurdish security checkpoint sits between Amuda and Qamishli, Nov. 26, 2015. (Credit: S. Kajjo/VOA)
    FILE - This Kurdish security checkpoint sits between Amuda and Qamishli, Nov. 26, 2015. (Credit: S. Kajjo/VOA)

    “These experts will need a lot of equipment that can be sent via planes,” he said.

    Imagery and eyewitness accounts in Syria and Iraq have appeared to support increased involvement by the United States.

    Showed construction

    According to the global intelligence company Stratfor, low-resolution satellite imagery, taken December 28 and released last month, showed construction to extend the runway.

    A VOA reporter who visited the airbase over the weekend found that it is heavily protected by walls and forces belonging to Kurdish Protection Units and Syrian Democratic Forces.

    FILE - Members of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) return to Qamishli after a battle near Hasaka, March 14, 2015. (Credit: Z. Omar/VOA)
    FILE - Members of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) return to Qamishli after a battle near Hasaka, March 14, 2015. (Credit: Z. Omar/VOA)

    No journalists are allowed to enter the area.

    The airfield is 120 kilometers from the Qamishli airport – a civilian airport controlled by the Syrian government that is reported being used by Russian military aircraft flying missions in support of the regime.

    No Russian presence

    There was no evidence of a Russian military presence at Qamishli airport when VOA visited, but Fesla Yusif, deputy leader of the National Council of Syrian Kurds, confirmed the presence of Russian forces there.

    Yusif said he is troubled by what appears to be an increasing U.S. and Russian footprint in northern Syria, which largely has been free of fighting or an IS presence during Syria's civil war.

    “Syria is in a very bad and uncertain situation,” Yusif said. “International powers have increased their presence in the country without a clear strategy."

    VOA’s Rikar Hussein contributed to this report.


    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: AHMED from: INDIA
    February 03, 2016 8:34 PM
    What is the cost of building Daesh or IS and what is the cost of dismantling it. Is there any relationship between these two ratio. USA have full information about these two cost, please inform to the world.
    In Response

    by: AHMED from: INDIA
    February 12, 2016 3:47 AM
    Mr.Allice. USA is director of film for Middle East. Saudi Arab is Servant of USA. They are Professional dancers as per Music of USA.
    In Response

    by: Alice from: Canada
    February 04, 2016 10:19 AM
    The government of Turkey and members of Saudi Arabia's royal family are the ones writing the cheques to ISIL (Daesh) so ask them.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora