United Arab Emirates fighter planes based in Jordan have pounded Islamic State militant positions, marking a return to combat operations by one of the United States’ closest Arab allies in the fight against the extremists.
The Emirates’ decision to launch fresh air strikes from the kingdom after calling a halt in December was a strong show of support for Western-allied Jordan, which has vowed a punishing response to the militants’ killing of one of its pilots.
It also is likely to quiet concerns in Washington about the oil-rich Emirates’ commitment to the fight.
The seven-state federation, which includes Abu Dhabi and Dubai, stopped conducting air strikes late last year after Jordanian air force Lieutenant Moaz al Kasasbeh was captured when his plane crashed behind enemy lines, according to US officials. Lt al-Kasasbeh was later burned alive in a cage by the militants.
American defence officials last week said they had moved search-and-rescue aircraft closer to the battlefield, easing allies’ concerns about the coalition’s ability to aid downed pilots.
The General Command of the UAE armed forces said Emirati F-16s carried out a series of strikes this morning, according to a brief statement carried by the Gulf nation’s official WAM news agency.
The fighters returned safely to base after striking their targets, the statement said. It did not elaborate, nor did it say whether the strikes happened in Syria or Iraq. The militants hold roughly a third of each country in a self-declared caliphate.
Previous Emirati air strikes had been in Syria, making that the most likely site of its latest targets.
The Emirates had not commented on the suspension of its air strikes in December, and today’s statement was the first confirmation it had restarted combat operations.
It has continued to provide logistical support to the campaign by hosting coalition planes at its air bases on the southern rim of the Persian Gulf.
On Saturday, the Emirates announced it was deploying a squadron of F-16s to Jordan.
Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at Emirates University, said the decision to resume flights from Jordan was meant to “send the right message to everybody that the UAE stands by its friends in times of need”.
He predicted the Emirati role in the coalition would be even stronger than before now that it has American assurances about search-and-rescue capabilities.
“It’s a relentless campaign and it has to be carried out until Daesh is defeated,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group. “I think the UAE firmly believes this, probably more than any other Arab county.”