The Jordanian military has followed through with a series of fresh air strikes on Islamic State targets in al-Raqqa, Syria in response to the brutal execution of one of its F-16 fighter pilots. The pilot, Lt. Moaz al-Kassasbeh, was shot down in December over ISIS controlled territory during the US-led military coalition, nicknamed Operation Inherent Resolve, that has bombed targets in Syria and Iraq since August.
Along with the swift military action against ISIS targets, the Jordanian government executed two longstanding prisoners – both of Iraqi origin – Sajida al-Rishawi and senior al Qaeda prisoner Ziyad Karboli. Prior to the execution of the pilot, whose death was announced on Tuesday, talks between Jordanian government officials and ISIS leaders had been underway to possibly coordinate a prisoner exchange. Any chance for an exchange, however, fell apart once Kassasbeh had been confirmed dead, which some believe could have taken place as early as January 3.
The professionally shot and edited video of the horrific execution released by the media wing of ISIS, al-Hayat, was sharply condemned by world leaders and has rallied Jordanians around the prospect of escalating military action.
The fate of Kasasbeh – a member of a large tribe that forms the backbone of support for the country’s Hashemite monarchy – has gripped Jordan for weeks and some Jordanians have criticised King Abdullah for embroiling them in the US-led alliance that they say will provoke a militant backlash.
Some analysts believe Amman could now escalate its involvement in the campaign against Islamic State, which has seized large areas of Iraq and Syria, Jordan’s neighbours to the north and east. US officials told Reuters on Tuesday the killing of Kasasbeh would likely harden Jordan’s position as a member of the coalition against Islamic State.
It is yet to be seen whether or not this execution will rally the type of political will necessary to begin engaging ISIS militants with coalition ground troops. A decision to take the fight to ISIS will undoubtedly involve a great amount of risk and financial support in order to uproot the extremist organization from Iraq, and ultimately their stronghold in Syria.
With an estimated 25,000 battle hardened fighters, and tens of thousands more people who have joined the group out of fear or coercion, ISIS poses a formidable threat to stability in the region and the nation state boundaries that were carved out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.
Since the air campaign began in August the US-led coalition has dropped more than 1,800 bombs on the terror group. While they have been able to slow its momentum, ISIS has not been denied the group’s strategic goal of consolidating its hold over a swath of land the size of Jordan – stretching from the eastern edge of Aleppo in Syria to central Iraq. Whether or not strong domestic support from the Jordanian people to engage ISIS militants on the ground will have an impact on the US-led coalition’s strategic agenda is yet to be seen.[The Guardian] [Reuters]