Last week, reports began to surface in the press indicating that coalition forces were running out of Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria to strike. The same is not true for ISIS, which is taking full advantage of its now target-rich environment.
On Wednesday, the Kingdom of Jordan confirmed that one of their fighter planes had been taken out of the sky over Syria by ISIS forces. The Jordanian pilot was also confirmed captured, and his image began to appear on social media accounts linked to Islamic State militants.
This disturbing development was originally revealed to the press by the London-based watchdog group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which indicated that the plane had gone down near the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa. “Another group, the Raqqa Media Center, said the warplane crashed near the village of Hamra Ghannam, adding that ISIS militants were searching the area in case there is another pilot,” Fox News reported.
RMC published a photograph said to be of the pilot who appeared wearing a white shirt as he was surrounded by 11 fighters, some of them masked. Another photograph published by the group showed the man — naked from the waist down and soaking wet — being captured by three gunmen as he was taken out of what appeared to be a lake.
RMC later posted a photograph of the Jordanian military identity card of the pilot identifying him as Mu’ath Safi Yousef al-Kaseasbeh who was born on May 29, 1988. A photograph of al-Kaseasbeh was also posted in the Petra report, but he was not named.
Analysts long believed that ISIS maintained the capability to shoot down not just military aircraft but passenger planes as well, but this is the first time the militant group has successfully shot down a warplane.
CNN noted in its report on the downing of a coalition aircraft in Syria and “the capture of a pilot would be a setback for the anti-ISIS alliance.” That may prove to be an understatement.
The Reuters dispatch that warned of dwindling ISIS targets for Western and Arab allies to strike also raised the concern that this condition could lead to the fraying of the alliance.
In December, nearly 97 percent of all airstrikes were conducted by U.S. military forces. American allies carried out only two airstrikes inside Syria as of December 18 while U.S. forces undertook 62 sorties.
“That accentuates a shift that began shortly after the start of the campaign in late September, when US allies carried out 38 percent of the strikes,” Reuters reported. “The percentage quickly dropped to around 8 percent in October and 9 percent in November, according to Reuters calculations based on the data.”
Just under half of the 65 non-US coalition air strikes in Syria tallied until 3 a.m. on Dec. 15 took place in the first nine days of the air campaign in late September, according to US military data. US allies carried out 20 air strikes in October and just 14 in November.
The only two strikes by Washington’s allies this month targeted an electronic warfare garrison near the city of Raqqa on Dec. 7, a US official said.
Despite their limited engagement, a coalition allied plane is the first to be shot down in combat with ISIS. That is unlikely to prompt a surge in new airstrikes from coalition partners.
The value added by America’s coalition allies, particularly the Arab states, was always primarily symbolic. United States warplanes and ordnance have done the heavy lifting from the start of the war against the Islamic State, and coalition partners primarily provided the campaign with the veneer of legitimacy. The morale of an Arab coalition member state on the frontlines of the war must be crushed by the loss of a pilot and a warplane to ISIS.
“Jordan holds the group and its supporters responsible for the safety of the pilot and his life,” read a statement released by a Hashemite Kingdom army representative. But faith in this warning’s worth must be low. ISIS has repeatedly demonstrated their level of regard for life.
UPDATE: Central Command revealed in a statement on Wednesday that there is no evidence that ISIS is responsible for the downing of the Jordanian fighter aircraft as earlier reports indicated. They confirmed, however, that a warplane did crash near Syria and that the aircraft’s pilot has been captured by Islamic State militants.
“The Jordanians are highly respected and valued partners and their pilots and crews have performed exceptionally well over the course of this campaign,” said U.S. Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin.