By Sal Bommarito
ISIS militants shot down a Jordanian F-16 fighter jet over Syria and captured the pilot of the plane. The story is reported in the New York Times.
The event is noteworthy for a number of reasons. The jet was the first coalition plane to be shot down in the ISIS conflict. And, the Jordanian pilot is the first military person to be captured by the jihadists. Also important is that ISIS reported the capture of the pilot on social media, which will bolster its propaganda campaign and recruitment. And, ISIS stated that it used an antiaircraft missile to down the plane, another first. The U.S. military command has refuted the missile attack.
The command indicated that “most of the [airstrikes] have been carried out by the United States, with its partners often playing a supporting role.” Coalition partners include Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. None speak openly about their roles fearing retribution from ISIS and/or “domestic opposition from citizens who sympathize with the extremists.”
The Times article indicated, “It remained unclear whether the capture [of the pilot] would affect the participation of Jordan and other Arab countries in the fight against ISIS.”
The event is a developing tragedy even though it involves a single Arab pilot and one aircraft. The symbolism of a terrorist organization shooting down a jet plane will weigh heavily in every Arab country participating in the coalition. Social media will enable ISIS to milk the event and create more anxiety in the region.
The irony is that the U.S. is doing most of the dirty work and the participation of Arab countries on the ground and in the air is negligible. And, they are the states most likely to be attacked if ISIS grows and becomes more powerful.
From my perspective, there continues to be many negative signs relating to the ISIS war. The militants have commandeered a huge swath of land, and local Sunni tribes have not been willing or able to repel the fighters. ISIS is clearly digging in and avoiding serious damage from U.S. airstrikes. This conflict is not heading in a direction that will bring peace in the foreseeable future. Exacerbating the situation was a comment by a senior U.S. commander this week indicating that the war could last another three years. The U.S. really needs to reconsider the present battle strategy.