Bahrain Deploys Warplanes to Jordan for Anti-ISIS Fight

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Monday, February 16, 2015

Bahrain has deployed war planes to Jordan, the state news agency BNA said on Sunday, becoming the second Gulf Arab country to send warplanes to help in the fight against Islamist militants in Syria and Iraq.

Jordan has taken a leading role in conducting airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) strongholds in Syria and Iraq since the militants killed a Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kassasbeh, who was captured by the group after his plane crashed in Syria in December.

"A group of Bahraini Royal Air Force planes have landed in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to participate in the international effort to annihilate terrorism," BNA said.

It did not say how many aircraft or what kind were sent.

Last Monday, Bahrain's ruler and his Jordanian counterpart held talks in Amman that focused on reinforcing military cooperation between their countries, notably their air forces, a statement by the Jordanian royal palace said.

King Hamad of Bahrain told King Abdullah II that he was "proud to provide all the help Jordan needs to combat terrorism and protect Islam from Daesh," using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

The United Arab Emirates last week sent a squadron of F-16 jet fighters to Jordan to conduct airstrikes against ISIS alongside Jordanian planes.

The UAE had earlier joined a US-led coalition conducting airstrikes against ISIS suspended flights. But it had suspended flights, citing concerns about search and rescue capabilities, after the Jordanian pilot was downed.

Jordan's King Abdullah has vowed to avenge Kassasbeh's killing and ordered his commanders to prepare for a stepped-up military role in the US-led coalition against ISIS.

Many Jordanians fear being dragged into a conflict that could trigger a backlash by hardline militants inside the kingdom. But support for the military campaign has grown since Kassasbeh's killing.

Jordanian military experts say the ability of the kingdom to sustain its airstrikes would soon come under strain, given the 40 mid-life F16 jets the air force has at its disposal. US officials have told Reuters the United States was preparing plans to re-supply Jordan with munitions.

In a statement carried by BNA, the Bahraini army said that the move comes in line with "the framework of existing bilateral defense cooperation, the Joint Arab Defense Treaty and the kingdom's commitment to the efforts of the international coalition to eradicate terrorism."

Alongside UAE, Bahrain was the first Arab country to join the US-led anti-ISIS air campaign and to confirm its war jets action in Syria.

However, critics opposed to US involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington in partnership with its Gulf allies played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing and politically empowering armed opposition groups in Syria.

In October, prominent Bahraini rights activist Nabeel Rajab was arrested over his tweet suggesting that Bahraini recruits to ISIS were from state security forces, describing such institutions as the “ideological incubator” of the extremist group.

Rajab is one of several opposition figures to have been jailed for tweets or public remarks in recent months, in what opposition officials say is a campaign by authorities to crack down on the opposition which is demanding political and economic reforms.

The oil-rich Arab monarchies of the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, have long cracked down on dissent and calls for democratic reform, drawing criticism from human rights groups.

Bahrain remains deeply divided almost four years after the government repressed month-long pro-reform demonstrations.

Saudi Arabia, which is also a member of the US-led coalition, and other Gulf neighbors sent troops into Bahrain in March 2011, reinforcing a crackdown that led to accusations of serious human rights violations.

At least 93 people are estimated to have been killed and hundreds have been arrested and tried since the uprising erupted.

Protests still frequently break out in Bahraini villages, sometimes leading to clashes with police. The kingdom has also repeatedly imprisoned opposition activists, including Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary-general of al-Wefaq opposition movement, and members of the Khawaja family, who are prominent Bahraini activists.

In late September, The Washington Post published an editorial that highlighted the dismal track record of some the participating countries in the coalition, focusing on Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Bahrain.

Directed to US President Barack Obama, the editorial warned that partnership with these countries could force the US to soften “pressure on regimes that responded to the Arab Spring’s demand for democratic change with brutal repression,” adding that “alliance with repressive Arab regimes ultimately does more harm than good to US strategic interests.”

(Reuters, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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