Jordan Unleashes Firepower Against ISIS

Jordan air strike

Image courtesy of U.S. Defense Dept.

Jordan Unleashes Firepower Against ISIS
| published February 6, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review editor

The Jordanian pilots scribbled messages in Arabic and in English on the bellies of their fighter jets and on the sides of the bombs and missiles. The disdainful messages, scrawled in chalk or using Sharpie markers, were meant for the militant members of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

After take-off, some of the jets flew directly over the Jordanian neighborhood where King Abdullah was paying condolences to the family of the pilot burned alive by the ISIS extremists, killed in early January despite ISIS’s willingness to attempt to leverage him as part of a hostage trade for jailed al Qaeda terrorists in Amman. During his visit, as some of the jets flew overhead, the King gestured toward the sky and told the pilot’s grieving father that the Jordan’s substantial military might would avenge his son’s gruesome death.

Indeed, in retaliation for the burning of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, Jordan’s military this week unleashed some of the heaviest air attacks yet in the battle against ISIS. Jordan’s response was the most visible and powerful display of the outrage spreading across much of the Islamic world this week after images of al-Kasaesbeh’s execution were widely disseminated across the internet.

In late December, Al-Kaseasbeh’s F-16 had crashed in an area controlled by ISIS. After ejecting safely, the pilot was captured by militants on the ground, then, over the next few days, he was paraded for the cameras. Throughout much of January, ISIS had used the pilot as a bargaining chip in a complex series of deals which included the lives of two Japanese hostages, and the lives of two convicted terrorists held in prison in Jordan. As it turned out, ISIS had executed the pilot on January 3.

This week, Jordan’s air power concentrated on several ISIS targets around Raqqa, the de facto capital for all ISIS-controlled territory. Air surveillance video shows the destruction of weapons and ammunition storage facilities, a training facility, and compounds and structures used for the storage of small vehicles and supplies. Jordanian military officials said that this week’s air strikes are only the beginning of what they expect will be a longer campaign against ISIS.

ISIS formed out of the lawlessness and chaos of the long, bitter Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year. That war has wrought the deaths of tens of thousands, including many civilians, and has created a massive humanitarian crisis for neighboring countries—like Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan—as some two million people flee the areas under siege, or attempt to stay ahead of the advance of the heavily-armed ISIS extremists.

After a massive and rapidly-moving military campaign last spring and summer, ISIS now controls a vast area which includes about one third of both Iraq and Syria, including border checkpoint which separate Iraq and Syria from Jordan and Turkey. Until its forward momentum was stopped last fall, ISIS was advancing so quickly that it posed a threat to more countries, including Turkey—where the militants control territory literally to the fence separating the countries—and Saudi Arabia, to the south across the desert of southern Iraq.

Jordan’s air power is only part of a larger coalition of military might which includes the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE, however, earlier in February suspended its participation in the air campaign after images of al-Kaseasbeh’s execution were spread across the internet. The UAE told the Pentagon and the White House that it was deeply concerned for the safety of its pilots—some of whom are women—if they should be shot down or crash in areas controlled by ISIS. The UAE reportedly told its U.S. partners that the Pentagon needs to develop better contingencies for the rescue and/or extraction of aviators who may end up behind enemy lines, and that the U.S. must better coordinate the air campaign to include better targeting methods against ISIS.

Despite the intensity of the air campaign, which expanded and broadened last fall, ISIS retains almost all of its territorial gains. Intense firefights on the ground between Iraqi troops and ISIS militants resulted in Iraq’s recapture of several key oil facilities in the south, and the recapture of the strategically crucial dam and hydroelectric facility near Mosul, in the north. And close combat on the ground in Kobani, a key border city only a few hundred yards from Turkey, has resulted in slow progress as Kurds battle house-to-house to retake the city, which had nearly fallen into ISIS hands last fall. But despite these small gains, ISIS still retains control of most of the territory it claimed last spring and summer.

Some in Congress in the U.S. say that the American commitment to the effort must increase, and may soon require boots on the ground, possibly as part of a larger coalition effort involving not only U.S troops, but also troops from Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. There are currently about 2,200 U.S. military personnel in Iraq, assigned to support and train the Iraqi army and security forces.

In the meantime, Jordan says it will continue its air bombardment of ISIS targets. On Thursday, it launched more than 30 warplanes into the skies over Syria. Aside from targets near Raqqa, Jordan also hit multiple ISIS locations in Hasaka. Reports vary, but most estimates suggest that the latest round of airstrikes killed between 10 and 20 ISIS militants. ISIS posted photos and short videos showing the damage and destruction on the ground.

The outrage across Jordan has also spawned resurgence in domestic support for King Abdullah, who approved the immediate executions of two al Qaeda terrorists held for years in Jordanian prisons. One of those executed was Sajida al-Rishawi, a woman who had participated in the 2005 terrorist attack in Amman in which massive bombs exploded near several hotels, killing 60 and injuring hundreds. The suicide-bombing device Al-Rishawi was wearing failed to detonate, and she was apprehended at the scene. She was later tried and convicted of terrorism, and sent to death row, where she had been for nearly ten years.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Islamic Outrage Increases Over ISIS; Thursday Review editors; Thursday Review; February 5, 2015.

ISIS Executes Jordanian Pilot; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; February 3, 2015.