MAREA, Syria — Lt. Col. Maan al-Mansour's mission is to capture the Syrian air base where he once served.
The 22-year air force veteran, who defected in June to the rebellion, led an attack on the Kuwiras military airport last week. They hammered the base with mortar fire and rocket-propelled grenades for four hours, nearly overrunning it until they were driven back by sustained strafing and bombing by jet fighters.
Al-Mansour says he's determined to try again. Syria's rebels have turned to a new tactic of attacking bases, trying to stop the jets and attack helicopters that have wreaked devastation on their fighters and civilians in the battleground city of Aleppo and the nearby countryside.
"We are going to destroy the place that causes all this destruction," al-Mansour said. "The pilots inside are my friends and I like them, but they are on the wrong side, they destroy buildings with the innocent and children inside, so when I attack the airport, I think of them."
Rebels drove the Syrian army out of the countryside north of Aleppo long ago and claim to control more than two-thirds of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, where they have battled to a standstill the regime forces trying for more than a month to uproot them.
But the military is turning increasingly to its largely unchallenged air power, using its aircraft to strike in Aleppo and throughout the small towns that dot the rebel-held areas to the north. The growing reliance suggests the regime is trying to spare its elite troops of the Republican Guard and the Fourth Armored Division, which have borne the brunt of past year-and-a-half of fighting, according to Maplecroft, a British risk analysis company.
Rebels claim to have shot down a few aircraft, but they admit there is little to do about the threat from above — so they are moving against the source.