Jordan, US, France Intensify anti-ISIS Operations Following Murder of Pilot

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An image grab taken from the Jordanian TV on February 5, 2015 shows flames erupting from a building hit by an airstrike against ISIS by warplanes of the Jordanian Air forces eagles at an undisclosed location. AFP/JORDANIAN TV

Published Friday, February 6, 2015

Updated at 2:20 pm (GMT+2): Jordan said its warplanes launched dozens of new strikes Thursday against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, after vowing a harsh response to the burning alive of a pilot captured in Syria.

The US, France, United Arab Emirates and the European Union also announced various upscales and shifting of strategies in the fight against ISIS following the Jordanian pilot’s death.

A statement from the Jordanian armed forces said tens of jets were deployed in the attacks on Thursday morning, "hitting training camps of the terrorist groups as well as weapons and ammunition warehouses."

The army statement on Thursday did not say where the targets were located — ISIS holds swathes of Syria and Iraq — but said they were destroyed and the aircraft returned home safely.

The show of force came two days after ISIS released a highly choreographed video of the horrifying murder of pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh, whose death has sparked grief and deep anger in Jordan.

Jordan's military has pledged to "destroy this terrorist group and kill the evil in its own place," saying it would punish ISIS for the "heinous act" of burning him alive.

"It's actually the beginning of our retaliation over this horrific and brutal murder of our brave young pilot, but it's not the beginning of our fight against terrorism and extremism," Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said in an interview with CNN later on Thursday.

State television aired footage of fighter jets taking off to carry out the raids. It later broadcast footage of the actual bombing before the jets returned safely to Jordan.

US deploys aircraft and troops to rescue downed pilots

American F-16 and F-22 jets provided security to the Jordanian fighter planes, with additional support from refueling tankers and surveillance aircraft, US officials said.

Jordan is a major US ally in the region. It has conducted regular raids against ISIS across the border in Syria as part of a US-led campaign against the extremist group and is home to hundreds of US military trainers bolstering defenses at the Syrian and Iraqi borders.

The country also hosted US troops during operations that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

On Thursday, US defense officials told AFP that Washington has also deployed aircraft and troops to northern Iraq to boost capabilities to rescue downed pilots fighting with the international coalition that is battling ISIS. The move is designed to shorten the response time needed to reach pilots who end up in territory held by ISIS.

Search-and-rescue crews had been based in Kuwait, but officials said Wednesday the military was reviewing where its hardware and specialists were located following the loss of the Jordanian pilot.

US officials suggested the move of some search-and-rescue teams to northern Iraq would include helicopters but not necessarily Ospreys, an aircraft that takes off like a chopper but flies like a plane.

In another move, US congressional aides said on Thursday that President Barack Obama will ask Congress for new authority to use force against ISIS fighters next week.

A House Democratic aide said lawmakers had been told they would receive the White House request next week. And an aide to Senator Bob Corker told Reuters the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expected Obama to send the text of an authorization as soon as next week.

Earlier on Thursday, US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said he expected Obama to seek congressional authorization for using military force against ISIS soon and also called for speeding up assistance to Jordan.

Obama, who hosted King Abdullah in a hastily organized meeting before his return to Jordan, decried the "cowardice and depravity" of ISIS, which had previously beheaded five Westerners, two Japanese hostages, two Lebanese soldiers and an untold number of Iraqis and Syrians.

France airstrikes “neutralize” 50 ISIS fighters in Iraq

The murder of the pilot also alarmed France that said it was boosting its arms against ISIS.

At a press conference on Thursday, President Francois Hollande said the mission to push back the extremist group had been "too slow," and vowed that France would work "with more and more intensity."

Hollande’s announcement came as the French army said in a statement that its fighter jets have "neutralized" 50 ISIS militants, along with several vehicles in recent days in Iraq.

The vehicles were destroyed in an unplanned "opportunistic strike" on Wednesday, the statement on the past week's operations said.

On January 30, during a reconnaissance mission between Mosul, Kirkuk and Baiji, French pilots spotted a group of around 150 ISIS combatants positioned against Kurdish forces. Around 50 were "neutralized," the statement said, without clarifying whether they were killed or injured.

"On the same day and in the same zone, the aircraft struck a position that was firing on Iraqi forces," the statement added.

France launched Operation Chammal in support of the US-led coalition against ISIS in September.

It has nine Rafale and six Mirage fighters operating in Iraq from bases in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, along with a maritime patrol and a refueling aircraft.

EU pledges one billion euros for Syria and Iraq

The European Union has pledged one billion euros ($1.1 billion) in funding for Syria and Iraq in the fight against ISIS, the bloc's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Friday.

"This package will strengthen our actions to help restore peace and security in a region that is so close to us and that has been devastated by terrorism and violence for too long," Mogherini said in a statement.

The EU said in a statement that it had agreed on the "first EU comprehensive strategy on tackling the crises in Syria and Iraq and the threat posed by Daesh," an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

"It brings together ongoing and planned initiatives of the EU and its Member States and boosts their efficiency, with an additional 1 billion euros in funding for the next two years," the statement said.

Violent acts by Islamists in France and Belgium in recent weeks have stoked fears in the 28-nation bloc about the risk of its citizens going to fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq then returning to carry out terror attacks in Europe.

"We face common challenges and common threats. We share an interest with our friends and partners in the region to stand up to them in the most effective way, and this is what we are doing today," Mogherini added.

UAE to strengthen ground force in Iraq

Meanwhile, a UAE daily said that "neither airstrikes nor a media war are sufficient to defeat” ISIS.

The UAE, which suspended airstrikes against ISIS, wants the US-led coalition to arm Sunni tribes in Iraq to fight the jihadists, government media reported Friday.

Al-Ittihad said the Emirates' decision to stop raids in Syria in December was "due to the need to assure adequate protection for all pilots participating in strikes against Daesh."

An even greater concern, according to the paper, was the lack of support for Sunni tribes in Iraq's Anbar province, large parts of which have been overrun by the jihadists.

"The most important reservation... is the dissatisfaction with the coalition which has not kept its promise to remember the Sunnis of Anbar, to train and equip them in the war against Daesh," it said.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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