ISIS capture of Jordanian pilot puts US and Jordan in conflicting dilemmas, may be pivotal to anti-terror war
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis December 25, 2014
The US military is going to great lengths to deny any evidence that ISIS shot down the Jordanian Air Force F-16 which came down Wednesday, Dec. 24 over the northern Syrian town of Raqaa. First Lieutenant Muath al-Kasaesbeh, aged 27, was the first Arab pilot to be taken prisoner by the Islamic State. The US Central Command statement said: “We can say with certainty that it was an aircraft crash and the plane was not downed by ISIL as was claimed by the terrorist organization.”
This contradicted an earlier statement by the Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad Momani that the plane had crashed after being hit by a ground-air missile. debkafile’s military and intelligence sources add that Middle East military and aviation control centers are quite sure that the Jordanian warplane was hit by an ISIS missile, while making low passes over the terrorist organization’s Syrian headquarters at Raqqa in violation of the pilot’s orders.
The Jordanians are making intense efforts to deter the jihadis from harming 1st Lt. Kasaesbeh.The Hashemite Kingdom’s armed forces warned that “IS and its supporters would be held responsible for the pilot’s safety and his life.”
The pilot belongs to the Bedouin tribe of Bararsha near Kerak in southern Jordan, which boasts several army generals. They and the tribal chiefs are bringing all their influence to bear to obtain his release.
American military is joining the effort to save the Jordanian pilot – from different motives, which are geared more to sustaining the goals and tactics pursued by the US and the coalition in the war on the Islamic State.
Thursday, Central Command chief Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, who is in charge of US and coalition operations in Iraq and Syria, released a long communiqué praising Jordan for its military actions in the battle, adding: “We will not tolerate ISIL’s attempts to misrepresent or exploit this unfortunate aircraft crash for its own purposes.”
The US general’s message was designed to reassure Jordanian Air Force pilots and dissuade them from dropping out of the coalition air campaign for fear of being shot down by an ISIS missile. The three other Arab coalition members, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, must also be kept from quitting.
The share of the four Arab air forces in the war is too weighty to forfeit.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi has not doubt calculated his stake in keeping the Jordanian pilot alive and at risk to scare fellow Arab pilots from continuing to take part in US-led bombing missions against his forces.
Furthermore, the Bararsha, like other South Jordanian Bedouin tribes, is known around the region for producing fierce fighters and their relentless pursuit of blood revenge.
Al Baghdadi may opt to avoid antagonizing them for this reason, as well as in the hope of a tangible benefit: ISIS is already using the smuggling routes of southern Jordan as channels to the groups his organization has planted in Sinai, Egypt and eastern Libya. He may decide to go one better and build an alliance with those very tribes behind the backs of the Americans and Jordan’s Abdullah II.
Such an eventuality would add a new dimension to the war on the Islamist terrorists.