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Jordan Matson, a U.S. veteran fighting alongside the Kurds against ISIS in Syria
Jordan Matson, a U.S. veteran fighting alongside the Kurds against ISIS in Syria

US and coalition airstrikes

U.S. and coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq continued during the week. Dozens of airstrikes were carried out during the week. The intensive airstrikes by the Royal Jordanian Air Force in retaliation for the murder of the pilot were salient, and were carried out not only in Syria (as was the case up to now), but in Iraq as well.

Following are the locations of the airstrikes:

In Syria,dozens of airstrikes in the rural area of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) continued, although ISIS operatives have withdrawn from the city. Airstrikes were also carried out in the areas of Al-Raqqah and Deir al-Zor. The airstrikes damaged logistics facilities, ISIS military units, positions, weapons, vehicles and oil production equipment.

In Iraq, airstrikes were carried out in the areas of Mosul, Kirkuk, Baiji, Tal Afar, Al-Assad, Fallujah and Al-Qaim. The airstrikes damaged ISIS military units, checkpoints, weapons, buildings, vehicles and boats which were used by ISIS.

Royal Jordanian Air Force airstrikes

On February 8, 2015, Royal Jordanian Air Force Commander Major General Mansour al-Jabour presented the intensive airstrikes carried out by the Royal Jordanian Air Force. The airstrikes, which were coordinated with the international coalition, began in the days following the killing of Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh. On February 5, the Royal Jordanian Air Force attacked 19 ISIS training centers; On February 6, the Royal Jordanian Air Force carried out 19 sorties, attacking ammunition depots, logistics centers, fuel depots and military equipment; On February 7, the Royal Jordanian Air Force carried out 19 sorties, attacking ISIS operatives and camps. Al-Jabour noted that the Royal Jordanian Air Force airstrikes helped hit the ISIS fuel production network (Jordanian News Agency, February 8, 2015).

The Royal Jordanian Air Force Commander said that the Royal Jordanian Air Force did not attack civilian buildings at any stage. He added thatthe primary goals of the air strikes are: hitting the top leadership of ISIS; hitting the organization’s “exports” (this presumably means mainly its exports of petroleum products); destroying ISIS’s training camps; hitting its command and control capabilities and hitting the organization’s operatives. According to the Royal Jordanian Air Force Commander, in the days ahead the Royal Jordanian Air Force is expected to carry out many sorties and attack ISIS targets (Jordanian News Agency, February 8, 2015).

Reactions in Jordan to the execution of the Jordanian pilot

On February 3, 2015, ISIS published a video showing the Jordanian pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh being executed by fire inside a cage. Jordan’s King Abdullah II cut short his visit to the United States and returned to Jordan. After his return, he visited the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces, met with the Chief of Staff and announced that Jordan’s response to the “criminal and cowardly” act would be severe (Jordanian News Agency, February 4, 2015). A strong protest arose in Jordanian society and politics.

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After the photos of al-Kasasbeh being burned to death were published, demonstrations and protests broke out in Amman (attended by Queen Rania), Karak, Zarqa, Ramtha and other cities in Jordan. The demonstrators demanded that the government take revenge, shouting “Death to ISIS”.

Following is a summary of the Jordanian responses to the execution up to now (as of February 10, 2015):

Increasing the Jordanian bombings against ISIS following the murder of the pilot al-Kasasbeh: Jordanian “military sources” told an Al-Hayat correspondent that Jordan now has “a private vendetta” against ISIS (Al-Hayat, February 5, 2015). In practice, Jordan increased its airstrikes against ISIS, in both Syria and northern Iraq (the Mosul area), as detailed above. The media reported that the airstrike in Mosul killed over 35 ISIS operatives (Sky News in Arabic, February 6, 2015). This was the first time the Royal Jordanian Air Force attacked targets in Iraq since Jordan joined the coalition (up to now, there has been a kind of “division of labor” among the partners of the US: Arab air forces joined the US in its airstrikes in Syria, and Western air forces assisted it in Iraq). Jordanian TV (February 6) broadcast photos documenting Royal Jordanian Air Force planes taking off to carry out airstrikes and returning at the end of the airstrikes.

The release from prison of a senior jihadi operative who is hostile to ISIS: on February 5, 2015, Jordan released the kingdom’s most senior Salafist-jihadi, Issam al-Barqawi (Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi), who is opposed to ISIS. The Prosecutor General of the State Security Court dismissed the charges against al-Maqdisi and ordered his immediate release on probation. Upon his release from prison, al-Maqdisi said that he had tried to intervene for the release of Muadh al-Kasasbeh. He said that he had negotiated with ISIS and other jihadi organizations in the Middle East but to no avail, because ISIS deceived him. He condemned the execution of al-Kasasbeh by fire, adding that ISIS is harming the image of the Salafist-jihadi movement and creating an internal rift between Muslims (Al-Rai Media Channel, February 6, 2015).

Issam al-Barqawi (Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi) is a senior Salafist-jihadi operative who supports the Al-Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria) and vehemently opposes ISIS. In June 2014, he was released from a Jordanian prison after serving four years in prison for his involvement in terrorism. From the perspective of the Jordanian regime, his release was intended to strengthen the opponents of ISIS among the Salafist-jihadi movement as part of a policy of divide and conquer. He was arrested again in late October 2014 and was released again after the murder of the Jordanian pilot.

Written by: The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC)