ISIS militants seized a vital government air base in northeastern Syria on Sunday, according to state television. Tabqa air base was the Syrian regime's last stronghold in the area. "It will facilitate attacks towards the north by the south Turkish borders," according to Laith Alkhouri, a senior analyst at New York-based intelligence consulting firm Flashpoint Global Partners. The capture will likely allow ISIS to launch operations against rival rebel groups also fighting to oust the government of President Bashar Assad, Alkhouri said. Photos from nearby ISIS-controlled Raqqa showed men riding on motorcycles, waving ISIS' black flag and celebrating.
The base fell after a week of heavy fighting, according to an anti-ISIS rebel in the area who spoke to NBC News on the condition of anonymity. "Taking over the military airport was one of ISIS aims for a long time because of the heavy shelling and bombing from the airport toward Raqqa," he said. In addition to battling the Assad regime and rampaging through neighboring Iraq, ISIS has been fighting other anti-Assad fighters in Syria. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in the country, at least 346 ISIS fighters were killed and more than 170 government troops died since Tuesday in the battle over Tabqa, making it one of the deadliest confrontations between the two groups since the start of Syria's war.
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Reuters contributed to this report.