Hezbollah, the Shiite militia propping up the Syrian regime, is now using drones in its fight against al Qaeda-led rebels in the border region between Syria and Lebanon. A video released by a pro-Hezbollah media outlet showed aerial footage shot by a drone flying over the battlefield near the town of Qalamoun.
Hezbollah began its drone campaign years ago with the goal of flying into Israeli airspace on both combat and reconnaissance missions, but has now expanded its target area to the region where it is fighting rebel groups opposed to the Syrian regime. In Lebanon, that means largely the Syrian affiliate of al Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra. The use of drones in Qalamoun could give Hezbollah a significant advantage over the rebels who do not have access to air power.
Though the group has used armed drones in fighting previous battles, it remains unconfirmed whether drones are serving the same purpose in Qalamoun.
The main Hezbollah drone strip is in Lebanon’s northern city of Hermel, 18 km (11 miles) from the Syrian border, and was built between February 2013 to June 2014, according to a recent report from IHS Jane’s 360, a risk assessment and military analysis company.
Hezbollah also allegedly builds its own drones, a source close to the group told International Business Times. Reports from earlier Hezbollah drone strikes on Israel and photo evidence of Hezbollah fighters building the unmanned aircraft show the organization primarily uses Misrad ("migrant") drones, thought be the Iranian drone of choice.
Nusra has been fighting the Syrian army and Hezbollah in Syria, in the mountainous region that includes a main road to Damascus, for more than a week. In the past three days, forces supporting the regime of President Bashar Assad, particularly Hezbollah, have made significant gains over Nusra fighters. The pro-regime militias Monday seized a strategic border crossing, effectively cutting off a rebel supply line that ran from the Damascus suburb town of al-Zabadani to the Qalamoun region.
Qalamoun has long been a hideout for Syrian rebels and terrorist groups fighting in Syria, including militants alligned with the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS. The Nusra-led rebel coalition fighting in Qalamoun, known as Jaish al-Fatah (the Army of Conquest), issued a statement Tuesday vowing to “eradicate” ISIS from Qalamoun. The Army Of Conquest claimed it attacked ISIS headquarters in Qalamoun Monday night, capturing about 70 fighters.
Initially, it had greeted favorably the arrival of ISIS on the scene: “The emergence of some mujahedeen brothers within this organization [ISIS] initially outwardly appeared to be only righteous,” said a statement released through the group’s media office and disseminated over social media. But now, “a decision has been made by the working factions to eradicate this corruptive group because there is no longer any other option.”
As of Tuesday morning, fighting in Qalamoun was ongoing among all factions.